20 March 2017

On the Current Antisemitism

Okay, so this must be the proof in the pudding. 

Since the election, the United States has seen a spike in reported hate crimes and violent acts against a whole array of people--this is reported, countable, legible, provable, and obvious. The high-profile ones are on the national news, but you can see them in your local newspaper, on your city news broadcasts, you can hear about them on the radio, and you sometimes witness them in person, when you are not the victim of them. This is happening.

Obviously, Muslims--or people perceived to be "Muslim"--would be the first recipient of this local (but also executive and, thus, national) aggression: mosques, individuals, islamic organizations.

Then "immigrants"--but not all immigrants, really, just immigrants of, shall we impolitely call it, in that charmingly, antique phrasing, a "duskier hue": apparently that's Indians (from India), Sikhs (turbans: because turbans are exotic and the exotic is unfamiliar and the unfamiliar is frightening and what frightens us is automatically dangerous), anyone suspiciously Latin (i.e. "illegal Mexican" rapist/murderer/au pair/gardener), and anyone else with brown skin ("Go back to your country!"). 

Then we have African-Americans--you know, "Black people"? You've probably heard of them.

This comes as no surprise, since targeting black people is a national pastime and seems to be written into our national DNA, when it is not written into our national Constitution. (The horrible words, the curses, the slurs, the lies, half-lies, statistics, the violent words uttered against African-Americans, Blacks, People of Color, and Negroes in this-great-country-against-itself, need never be repeated again, to my way of thinking. We have all heard them, far too much, in our minds, in our homes, in our beds, on television, in books and magazines, and on the street.)

Okay, there's been a spike in violence against gay people, particularly men ("Trump won! Get used to it!"), which is not that weird, considering the kinds of people we're talking about, and how late the gay have been to the party of even tacit or expected "tolerance"/"acceptance." 

But the one I really can't wrap my stupid, fucking, American mind around is the spike in antisemitism everywhere, and against long-established synagogues (Sure! Why not attack a neighborhood place of worship? Synagogue=Mosque) and Jewish community centers.

When people are clearly other by skin color, the cowards go after them, sure.

Muslim, immigrant, dirty Mexican rapist, black man--I get it. It's asinine and repugnant, but I can at least follow the ham-fisted, racist logic at work, here. 

With our Jewish friends and neighbors, we enter into a strangely different territory.

This is not just because these individuals and communities have been here, on our shores, for so long (Black people, after the First Nations and Native Americans, after the Dutch, are the people who have lived here the longest: yes, they were slaves in New Amsterdam), but because of Jewish assimilation to American-ness, especially during the postwar period; their imbrication with American culture; their strange invisibility and presence--their frequent ability to pass, especially after entering the current period, where black Irish, Italians, Greeks, mediterraneans, and so on, were no longer considered "animals," in America--and the long, difficult history with and against antisemitism in the United States; our experience and non-experience/our knowledge and non-knowledge/our non-complicity and complicity in the Holocaust; our relationship politically, imperially, territorially, and culturally to Israel: for all these reasons, the sudden temerity in the attacks against Jewish cultural centers and people in the U.S.A., after the election, really pulls the mask off the clown.

Oh... It's YOU!

And, even if all the people committing the violence aren't motivated by the same animus, they are each being animated by each others' animus. 

And so, the oldest--the foundational--bigotry in Christendom; that most European of christian hatreds; that two thousand-year-old, murderous rage rises again, after being told to settle down for so long: Jew-hatred; Jew-murder; God-murder; Antisemitism: two-thousand years of death, pogrom, exile-in-exile, status-without-status, nationality-without-nationality. This? Again?

To my mind, this is how we should know it's serious.

What would Jesus do?

12 March 2017

On "My White Knight"

These lyrics don't exist online--I had to transcribe the whole thing, myself. This is a sort of reconstruction, by Cook and company, for that first, legendary Carnegie concert, of a version that never really existed because there were so many versions of "My White Knight," as they put The Music Man together. My friends, Meredith Wilson and friends: Welcome to the stream-of-consciousness that is Marian the Librarian.

My White Knight

All I want is a plain man,
A modest man, a quiet man,
A straightforward and honest man,
With habits
That do not exclude the occasional reading of a book;

I do not yearn for,
Nor do I await,
Any handsome,

No world-traveller,
In fact or fancy,
No show-off,
No clotheshorse;
He need not necessarily be
In uniform;

Ah, you wait,
No clean-cut,
Square-rigged, white duck
Pants in tennis shoes;

No plumed hat,
No splendid insignia,
No Moose-, Elk-, Eagle-
Oddfellows-, National Guardsman,
Fire chief, or Highlander;

Be he from the Arabian Knights,
Or the French Foreign Legion;
No lothario shoe salesman,
No bandleader, no railroad conductor,
Or any other charmer,
Either of me, or anybody else;

No Chautauqua advance agent,
No vaudevillian,
No depot telegrapher;
I'm not dazzled or for any such a kind
Of fascinating flame.

All I want is a plain man,
A modest man,
A quiet man,
A straightforward,

And honest man,
To sit with me,
In a cottage somewhere,
In the state of Iowa;

And listen with a smile,
To a poem or a song
That is neither a five-line
Limerick about Saint Peter,
And the Man from Duluth,

Or a sing-song Lament
Of a Purple Cow;
And not every day,

But just occasionally,
We could walk down by the meadow,
In the twilight-sprinkled dew:

My White Knight,
Can be blacksmith,
Well-digger, clerk, or king;

All I want is a plain man,
A modest man, a quiet man,
A straightforward, and honest man,

With habits,
That do not
Necessarily include

The chewing of snuff,
Or exploding root beer,
In the cellar, every June;

And I would like him to be
More interested in me,
Than he is in himself,

And more interested in us,
Than in me.
And if occasionally

He'd ponder
What makes
Shakespeare and
Beethoven great:

Him, I could love,
till I die. Him,
I could love,
Till I die.

My White Knight,
Not a Lancelot,
Nor an angel with wings,

Just someone to love me,
Who is not ashamed
Of a few nice things;

My White Knight,
Let me walk with him,
Where the others ride by,

Walk, and love him,
Till I die,
Till I die.

Meredith Wilson, "My White Knight," The Music Man, 1957. Book, lyrics, and music: Meredith Wilson. Barbara Cook went through the development process of The Music Man and put this version together, with her music director, from snippets and versions that didn't make it into the final song; from "My White Knight," Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall, 1975.

07 March 2017

Non-Laughter, Laughter, Perhaps Syllables, or Only Phonemes in Western Civilization

I have long been interested in the representation and musicalization of laughter, or that representation of that which we take as laughter. It is a long history, and a rich one. I offer, here, only a small sample, a cross-section, an intersection, of texts, the crossroads, where Death--or its undead refusal, its burial, or the deal with the Devil--and the Devil, as the God, always seems to be, and be in the details.

My aunt, who is a nun, once said to me, a long time ago, "How can we know what other people know, when we can barely know ourselves?" She has since repudiated this remark, but for me, it was foundational. And psychoanalysis--and our current political situation--bears this observation out. How can we know another, when we can barely know ourselves? We insist on imputing intentions and meanings to others, when we barely understand our own. The lie tells the truth. The tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive, tells a better truth than when we try to tell the truth. And our understanding of another, tells us so much more about ourselves. Is someone laughing, or just extending her lips and making a sound?

Of course, we begin with Mozart.

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart,

Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!
Death and despair flame about me!

Fühlt nicht durch dich Sarastro
If Sarastro does not through you feel

The pain of death,

So bist du meine Tochter nimmermehr.
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.

Verstossen sei auf ewig,
Disowned may you be forever,

Verlassen sei auf ewig,
Destroyed be forever

Zertrümmert sei'n auf ewig
Abandoned may you be forever,

Alle Bande der Natur
All the bonds of nature,

Wenn nicht durch dich!
If not through you

Sarastro wird erblassen!
Sarastro becomes pale! (as death)

Hört, Rachegötter,
Hear, Gods of Revenge,

Hört der Mutter Schwur!
Hear a mother's oath!

W. A. Mozart (music), Emanuel Schikaneder, (libretto), Lucia Popp (vocal), "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen," Die Zauberflöte, 1791.

Glitter and be Gay

And, here I am,
my heart breaking,
Forced to glitter,
Forced to be gay.

Glitter and be gay,
That's the part I play;
Here I am in Paris, France,
Forced to bend my soul
To a sordid role,
Victimized by bitter, bitter circumstance.
Alas for me! Had I remained
Beside my lady mother,
My virtue had remained unstained
Until my maiden hand was gained
By some Grand Duke or other.

Ah, 'twas not to be;
Harsh necessity
Brought me to this gilded cage.
Born to higher things,
Here I droop my wings,
Ah! Singing of a sorrow nothing can assuage.

And yet of course I rather like to revel,
Ha ha!
I have no strong objection to champagne,
Ha ha!
My wardrobe is expensive as the devil,
Ha ha!
Perhaps it is ignoble to complain...
Enough, enough
Of being basely tearful!
I'll show my noble stuff
By being bright and cheerful!
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha!

Pearls and ruby rings...
Ah, how can worldly things
Take the place of honor lost?
Can they compensate
For my fallen state,
Purchased as they were at such an awful cost?

Bracelets... lavalieres
Can they dry my tears?
Can they blind my eyes to shame?
Can the brightest brooch
Shield me from reproach?
Can the purest diamond purify my name?
And yet of course these trinkets are endearing,
Ha ha!
I'm oh, so glad my sapphire is a star,
Ha ha!
I rather like a twenty-carat earring,
Ha ha!
If I'm not pure, at least my jewels are!

Enough! Enough!
I'll take their diamond necklace
And show my noble stuff
By being gay and reckless!
Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha!

Observe how bravely I conceal
The dreadful, dreadful shame I feel.
Ha ha ha ha!

Leonard Bernstein (music), Richard Wilbur (lyrics), Barbara Cook (vocal), "Glitter and be Gay," Candide, 1956.

O Superman (for Massenet)

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...

O Superman.
O Judge.
O Mom and Dad.
Mom and Dad.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

O Superman,
O Judge,
O Mom and Dad,
Mom and Dad.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Hi! I'm not home right now,
But if you want to leave a message,
Just start talking at the sound of the tone.

Ah, ah-ah,
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

Hello? This is your Mother.
Are you there?
Are you coming home?

Ah, ah, ah, ah-ah, ah, ah.

Hello? Is anybody home?

Well, you don't know me,
but I know you,
And I've got a message
to give to you,
Here come the planes.

So, you better get ready,
Ready to go;
You can come as you are,
but pay as you go,
Pay as you go.

Ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.

And I said: Okay,
Who is this really?

And the voice said:

This is the hand,
the hand that takes.
This is the hand,
the hand that takes.
This is the hand,
the hand that takes.

Here come the planes.

They're American planes,
Made in America,
or non-smoking?

Ah, ah-ah,
Ah, ah, ah, ah.

And the voice said:
Neither snow nor rain,
nor gloom of night,
Shall stay these couriers
from the swift completion
Of their appointed rounds.

Ah, ah-ah,
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah-ah.

'Cause when Love is gone,
there's always Justice;

And when Justice is gone,
there's always Force;

And when Force is gone,
there's always Mom.

Hi Mom!

Ah, ah,
Ah, ah-ah.

So hold me, Mom,
in your long arms,
So hold me, Mom,
in your long arms,
In your automatic arms,
Your electronic arms,
In your arms.

So hold me, Mah-ahm,
in your long arms,
Your petrochemical arms,
Your military arms,
In your electronic arms.

Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah....

Laurie Anderson, "O Superman (for Massenet)," Big Science, 1982.

I have written a poem for a woman who rides a bus in New York City. She's a maid. She has two shopping bags. When the bus stops abruptly, she laughs. If the bus stops slowly, she laughs. If the bus picks up someone, she laughs. If the bus misses someone, she AH-ha-ha-ha. So, I watched her for about nine months. I thought, "Mm, uh-huh." Now, if you don't know black features, you may think she's laughing, But she wasn't laughing, she was simply extending her lips and making a sound, Eh, heh-heh-heh! I said, "Oh, I see. That's that survival apparatus. Now, let me write about that to honor this woman, who helps us to survive." By her very survival--Miss Rosie--through your destruction, I stand up. So, I use the poem with Mister Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "Masks," and my own poem for old black men. Mister Dunbar wrote "Masks" in 1892.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O my God, our tears
To thee from tortured souls arise.
And we sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world think otherwise,
We wear the mask!

When I think about myself,
I almost laugh myself to death,
My life has been one great big joke,
A dance that’s walked,
A song was spoke,

I laugh so hard, Ha-ha! I almost choke,
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world.
The child I works for calls me "girl";
I say, “HA-HA-HA, Yes ma’am,” for working’s sake.
I'm too proud to bend
And too poor to break,
So, I laugh, until my stomach ache,
When I think about myself.

My folks can make me split my side,
I laughed so hard, HA-HA-HA, I nearly died.
The tales they tell, sound just like lyin',
They grow the fruit, but eat the rind.
I laugh, AH-HA-HA-HA, until I start to cryin',
When I think about myself,
And my folks, and the little children.

My Fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank,

And they nod, like broken candles,
All waxed and burnt profound
They say "But, Sugar, it was our submission
That made your world go round."

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block,
The chains and slavery's coffles,
The whip and lash and stock.

My Fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound,
They say, "But Sugar, it was our submission
And that made your world go round."

They laughed to shield their crying ,
They shuffled through their dreams
They step 'n' fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.

I understand their meaning,
It could and did derive,
From living on the ledge of death,
They kept my race alive.
By wearing the mask.

Ah, HA, HA, HA, HA!

Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou, We Wear the Mask/When I Think about Myself/Song for the Old Ones, 1892, 19-something, Angelou's poem dating is not coming up on Google, which is its failure. The colloquium on Evil, from which this performance was taken, was held in Texas in 1988.