A Polish tongue twister

November 23, 2021 • 9:45 am

In my perambulations across the Internet, I came upon a list of international tongue twisters, and looked up the Polish ones. I thought they’d be interesting because Polish, with its notable absence of vowels and presence of many cases, is a very hard language for English speakers to learn, much less pronounce.  I’ve been sending these tongue twisters to Malgorzata each morning and then Skyping her to hear her read them in Polish. And oy! are they hard!

I also discovered that Polish poets often write poems as tongue twisters, the way Anglophones write limericks—as a form of amusement.  So I will present the latest Polish tongue twister and you can try to pronounce it. You will fail.  It’s part of a poem by Czeskaw Jryszewski:

Chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie w Szczebrzeszynie,
W szczękach chrząszcza trzeszczy miąższ,
Czcza szczypawka czka w Szczecinie,
Chrząszcza szczudłem przechrzcił wąż,
Strząsa skrzydła z dżdżu,
A trzmiel w puszczy, tuż przy Pszczynie,
Straszny wszczyna szum…

If you heard it pronounced by a Polish person, it is indeed a tongue twister, and doesn’t sound all that much like the words above. So it goes.

Malgorzata also translated it into English:

A beetle sounds in reeds in Szczebrzeszyn [name of a town],
In the beetle’s jaws pulp is creaking,
A meaningless earwig is hiccuping in Szczecin [name of a town],
A snake bashed the beetle with a crutch,
It shakes rain off its wings,
And a bumblebee in the forest close to Pszczyna [name of a town],
Started horrendous noise.

McWhorter on Amanda Gorman’s translators

March 21, 2021 • 12:30 pm

In recent years there’s been lots of discussion about whether an author is “entitled” to write about genders or ethnicities to which they don’t belong, and it’s getting harder and harder to do that all the time. However, literature hasn’t yet discarded the idea that someone can enter into the imagination of a very different person and present their thoughts in a stimulating and imaginative way. If that weren’t the case, I as a reader wouldn’t be able to resonate with ethnic characters written by same-ethnicity authors, like Bigger Thomas in Native Son, nor would a black reader be able to resonate with James Joyce. To think otherwise presumes that people of a different group from you, say blacks, Hispanics, or women, are so homogeneous that only a writer from the same group can create such characters, or only a reader from the same group can understand them. In other words, it presumes a homogeneity of thought and imagination that people in any group deny—as they well should.

On the other hand, there are some experiences based on group membership that would be difficult to present unless you’d experienced them. Difficult, but not impossible.

And on this presumption is based a lot of cancelation. Now, however, it’s the translators as well as authors who are getting it in the neck. I’ve written previously (here and here) about how black poet Amanda Gorman was having her Inaugural poem translated into Dutch and Catalan, but the Dutch translator quit in the face of opprobrium while the Catalan translator was deemed unsuitable because he was neither young, black, or female.  In both cases case, a white translator, even if bisexual, was deemed genetically unsuitable to do the translation.

To nix translators on the same basis that you try to cancel authors is even dicier, as translation—and this is true of Gorman’s poem—requires more a sensitivity to language and rhythm than the need to have shared the poet’s experiences. Read Gorman’s poem and judge for yourself.

John McWhorter has a similar but far more thorough take on the kerfuffle than do I; as usual, he squeezes much more out of these situations than I can. And, as usual, I agree with him.  His analysis is free on Substack (but consider subscribing), and you can access it by clicking below:

As he so often does, McWhorter shows that the “Elect” (the name he’s given to the quasi-religious Pecksniffs who monitor this kind of stuff) are actually infantilizing Blacks, and he also shows how this behavior aligns with Critical Race Theory.

I’ll give just a few quotes. First he notes that Shakespeare has been translated into a gazillion languages, as has the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, and even Alice Walker’s The Color Purple has been rendered into 25 different languages—all without any kvetching.

But now with the kerfuffle about translating Gorman, McWhorter senses a change in attitude: American black writers are now especially untranslatable by whites:

The idea is that American blackness is a special case here. The legacy of white racism, and manifestations of white supremacy still present, mean that the rules are different when it comes to who should translate a black person’s artistic statements. Our oppression at the hands of whites is something so unique, something so all-pervasive, something so all-defining of our souls and experience, that no white person could possibly render it in another language.

This is a fair evocation of what our modern paradigm on blackness teaches us. Power differentials, and especially ones based on race, are all and everything, justifying draconian alterations of basic procedure and, if necessary, even common sense.

However, note how much this portrait diminishes, say, Gorman. To her credit, she was not the one who suggested the Dutch translator be canned. After all, are we really to say that this intelligent young human being’s entirety is the degree to which she may experience white “supremacy”?

Watch out for the “Nobody said that” game. No, no one states that experience of white supremacy is all she is, but if we insist that her poetry can only be translated by someone who has experienced it, this means that the experience of white supremacy is paramount in our estimation of her. Example: we presumably don’t care if a white translator might be better at evoking other aspects of her such as her youth, her sense of scansion – what matters most is her oppression.

McWhorter goes on to discuss why blackness should “trump all questions as to artistic rank”, and finds it a rejection of “the intelligence inherent to art and its evaluation”.

And here’s an issue I raised earlier when I suggested doing blind translations of Gorman by a variety of translators and have a woke person conversant in the translated languages judge the renderings. You know that they’re not going to always pick out the black translator, much less the young black translator, much less the young, black, female translator!:

And finally, exactly what might a white translator get wrong? Where are the demonstrations of where a white translator of a black poet or novelist’s work slipped? And as to those who might dredge some up in response to my asking, what’s important is that in this controversy no one is bringing them up (at least to prominent view) and no commentators have seemed especially likely to have any examples on the tips of their tongues or iPhones. We are dealing in a hypothetical.

McWhorter winds up showing, as you’ve probably guessed, that this behavior of “The Elect” aligns with critical race theory:

This is how we are to process blackness according to the tenets of Critical Race Theory. A fashionable current among its adherents is to claim that their critics are merely misinformed churls seeking Twitter hits. But if CRT adherents cheer this decision about Gorman’s translators, they are showing that misinformation is not the only reason so many are devoting themselves to reining in CRT’s excesses. The grounds for firing these translators – and we can be sure, others over the next few weeks – are thoroughly contestable by thoroughly unchurlish people including ones who care naught about Twitter.

The grounds for these dismissals are a posture, handy for those with a need to show that they understand what white supremacy is, while turning a blind eye to their reduction of Gorman to a thin, pitiable abstraction. Onward indeed.

I still think that you can address this problem scientifically, using a variety of translators of different races, ages, ethnicities, and so on, and then have a Wokey person judge the translations for their conformity to what they see as Oppression Poetry.  Would a failure to pick out the “right” translators shut them up? I don’t think so, for Wokeness is immune to reason.

A Seussian poem by Bret Weinstein

March 13, 2021 • 1:30 pm

By now you know that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has discontinued printing six of his books because they contain “offensive images.” I agree that two of those books are, as they say, “problematic,” but am not quite sure about the other three.  It’s their call, of course, because it’s their books. But I hope that libraries don’t dump them. (Knowing librarians’ widespread defense of the First Amendment staunch opposition to censorship, I think they’ll be kept behind the counter.)

Now comes Dr. Bret Weinstein with a poem about the whole kerfuffle. And it’s a pretty good one, too: written in Seussian style with (generally) proper scanning and rhymes:

h/t: Lynne

Amanda Gorman’s Catalan translator removed for having the “wrong profile”

March 11, 2021 • 11:00 am

Today I’m just going to report on things happening in a climate of Wokeness. I hardly need comment on them because they’re similar to things that have happened before. Take today’s posts as a documentation of the balkanization of society—and not just in America.

As I reported on March 1, a Dutch translator lined up to put the poetry of Amanda Gorman—who spoke at the Inauguration—into Dutch had to drop out after critics suggested it was inappropriate for a white person to translate the poems of a young black woman.  Even Gorman approved of the translator, who, though they were white (the translator uses plural pronouns), was also “non binary”. Shouldn’t that rung on the oppression ladder count for something in this crazy world? Nope; it’s all based on skin color.

Now it’s happened again. As the Guardian reports, a poet who was to translate Gorman’s work into Catalan was deemed unsuitable because his “profile” (read: skin color and perhaps sex or age) was wrong. In this case the translator was fired rather than quitting in the face of social (justice) pressure.

Click on the screenshot to read:

An excerpt:

The Catalan translator for the poem that American writer Amanda Gorman read at US president Joe Biden’s inauguration has said he has been removed from the job because he had the wrong “profile”.

It was the second such case in Europe after Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld resigned from the job of translating Gorman’s work following criticism that a black writer was not chosen.

“They told me that I am not suitable to translate it,” Catalan translator Victor Obiols told AFP on Wednesday. “They did not question my abilities, but they were looking for a different profile, which had to be a woman, young, activist and preferably black.”

Look at all the criteria he had to meet: age, sex, race, and degree of activism! If you read Gorman’s Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb“, which is neither linguistically, intellectually complex, nor subtle, you’ll know that what’s required here is simply a sensitivity to poetry and the ability to translate from one language to another.

Not only that, but Obiols had already translated works from English into Catalan, including Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare—writers that are surely more difficult to tackle than is Gorman.

Obois was supposed to translate “The Hill We Climb” into an apparently standalone version, with a foreword by Oprah Winfrey, when he got word that “he was not the right person”. It’s not clear who made this decision. Obois didn’t go gentle, as opposed to the Dutch translator:

“It is a very complicated subject that cannot be treated with frivolity,” said Obiols, a resident of Barcelona.

“But if I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.”

Yes, an obvious point, but a good one. Likewise, Ezra Pound would have been deemed unsuitable to translate old English and Chinese poetry into modern English, but he did a fantastic job: those translations are some of his finest work. Read “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.”

You could find innumerable cases of translators who differed in ethnicity, age, race, sex, and so on from their subjects, but who did great jobs. Constance Garnett (1861-1946), an English woman, was and is still famous for her translations of Russian literature, and it was through her translations that I became acquainted with the works of Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol (she translated 71 books of Russian literature, and some of them were big ‘uns!). Her work is sensitive and poetic. But she was neither male nor Russian, so fie with her!

There are only two possible reasons for rejecting a translator in a case like this. The first is purely ideological: you have to find a translator that aligns with the writer for reasons of social justice, perhaps as a form of reparations or literary affirmative action. The second has to do with quality: one could claim that political/racial/sexual alignment is necessary to do a good job of translation. I think that reason has been amply disproven, leaving the first reason—the Woke one—as the only plausible alternative.

If you want more evidence, I propose this experiment: find a black female activist Catalan translator (good luck with that!) to translate Gorman’s poem into English, as well as a number of other translators: young Catalan white women, non-Catalan white women, old Catalan black women, Catalan women who are not activists, Asian women who speak Catalan but aren’t activists, and so on. Then put all the translations side by side in a blind study and see if neutral Catalan-and-English speaking observers, judging by the translation alone, can pick out the one poem translated by the wholly “appropriate” translator. I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t be able to do it.  And if that failed, it shows that you can’t argue that only the properly aligned translator can do justice to the original poem.  Clearly, the first explanation: compatibility with Wokeness, is more plausible. It’s also ridiculous.

I have yet to see a full explanation from the Translation Cancelers of exactly why differences in ethnicity, age, race, and sex are necessary for an Amanda Gorman translation. They just use the word “inappropriate”.

h/t: Jez

Poetry should have rhymes

January 5, 2021 • 11:15 am

I’ve deliberately made the title provocative, and I don’t believe it 100%. Further, I know this is a personal view not shared by many others. But it’s come to me lately, when reading the Norton Anthology of Poetry that I keep by my bedside, that the poems that speak to me, that move me, are nearly always ones that have rhymes. Now they don’t have to have a rigid ABABCDCD. . . GG structure of a Shakespearian sonnet, nor does every line have to rhyme, but nearly every poem that I love has some rhyme, internal or not.

I suppose I feel this way because poetry, as distinct from a lot of prose (but not all) is supposed to be musical, and part of that musicality is rhyme, which adds a pleasing musical tenor to the work. The same goes for assonance and alliteration, which I guess haven’t yet gone out of style like rhyme has. For if there’s one trait that characterizes truly modern poetry, it’s a lack of rhyme, or even rhythm. (Yes, I know some current poets still use rhyme, but it’s not frequent.)

When I realized this the other day, I tried to think of more modern poets I like who didn’t use rhyme.  I already remembered that Yeats and T. S. Eliot used it, though the latter more sparingly in works like “The Waste Land”.  (The last stanza of “Ben Bulben”, by Yeats, also has no rhymes save for the implied rhymes of there/near and spot/cut; but the rest of the poem does.)

Dylan Thomas also used rhyme most of the time, though in some of his poems, like the lovely “Fern Hill”, the lack of rhyme is compensated by a surfeit of alliteration and the sheer musicality of the words themselves (Richard Burton’s recitation is much better than Thomas’s own).

There are exceptions. I like Seamus Heaney, but his rhymes are few. So are they in Wallace Stevens, one of my favorite modern poets, but they are there nonetheless. Although “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is rhymeless, another favorite, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” has sporadic rhymes that buttress the work.  Ezra Pound used rhyme early in his career, but it’s absent in my favorite of his works, his translations of Old English and Japanese poems, including the gorgeous “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”. His Cantos, which start off well but go downhill, are sans rhyme.

Still, a poem I discovered in the last few years, and one that, to me, ranks amongst the great works of our era—Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy“—is full of rhyme, mostly with the “oo” sound. And that rhyme is part of the reason it’s such a good poem.

What leaves me cold are rhymeless and music-less poems—the kind you see in The New Yorker, and which seem to comprise much of modern poetry. I can’t say that that kind of poetry is bad, because of course taste is subjective, but it doesn’t engage me. Nor will I aver that poetry has declined as an art form (though I maintain that both jazz and classical music have). But I will say that when I go back to read poetry, I tend to land somewhere between Shakespeare and Plath—avoiding at all costs Walt Whitman, Bill Clinton be damned.

Dare I say that the poetry of our era is concerned less with music than with thought? (Remember, I’m not an English teacher here, just a reader.)

 

A mundane Sunday sermon on the nonexistence of the afterlife

September 6, 2020 • 9:00 am

While driving back from the grocery store (I shop early), I was forced to listen to Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show on NPR. It’s the show I love to hate, and because my radio dial is set on the local public radio station, I have to hear her on Sunday morning drives.  What I love best of all is when she nearly reduces herself to tears with the profundity of her own words. She always sounds like she’s on the verge of sobbing.

Today Tippett broadcast an old interview with the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who read some of her work at the end of the show. One of the poems that struck me was about mortality (Oliver died of cancer). The poet asked whether, when she died, she would vanish forever or live again in some form.

When I heard those lines, I thought, “You’re not having an afterlife, for we’re evolved beings.”  This sentiment now comes naturally to me since I’ve studied evolution for so long, as well as religion and theology and their penchant for wish-thinking.

Although theologians have tied themselves in knots trying to show that evolution is perfectly compatible with God and an afterlife (see Faith versus Fact), these apologetics always have the air of desperation. First, you have to reject the stories of Genesis (or, in Islam, the Qur’an) about the creation. One is forced to say, as did Andrew Sullivan, that they were just metaphors, adding perhaps that people of those times could not have understood the idea of evolution. That’s why God had to put it in the form of a fairytale.

But that has its own difficulties. Why, if the Bible is the word of God, wasn’t he able to discuss evolution? “‘Verily, all ye men came from a long process in which animals changed slowly,’ spake Moses.”  Well, we can leave that aside, but then you have to take issue with church fathers like Aquinas and Augustine the Hippo, who believed the Bible literally.

And if you think creation is a metaphor, then you have to explain why, if you’re a Christian who thinks we have souls, at what point the soul “evolved” in humans (actually, Catholics think that the soul is an exception to evolution: God stuck one in us instantly at some point, but left out all the other birds and beasts).  Further, you have to explain why, if we really did evolve, genetic calculations show that we could not all have descended from just two progenitors—Adam and Eve.  A Sophisticated Catholic (or evangelical Christian) would then have to say that Adam and Eve are in some sense also metaphors. You can see the sweating theologians trying to deal with this over at BioLogos. (The Catholic church leaves no wiggle room here: the Catechism states clearly that you cannot reject Adam and Eve as the literal progenitors of all of us.)

But you must explain as well that, if we really didn’t descend from Adam and Eve, whose actions brought us all the Original Sin, how that sin got into all of us. Again, theologians have answers, but they’re ludicrous and make me laugh. For if the Original Sin is just a metaphor, then the whole Christian story of sin and redemption falls to pieces.

Many Muslims simply reject the idea that the Quran’ic story of creation is a metaphor, and deny evolution altogether. This is why Turkey has banned the teaching of evolution in schools below the college level, and why I had such trouble getting Why Evolution is True published in Muslim countries. (It’s now said to be out in Egypt, published by the government press, but they’ve made it almost impossible to get hold of.)

Edward Feser, cocksure in his delusional theology, has declared that no animal beside humans go to heaven. (Say goodbye to Fido and Fluffy!) But if there’s any lesson from evolution, it’s that this form of human exceptionalism is bunk. Not only aren’t humans the special objects of God’s creation (we have 4-million year old fossils of our ancestors, for crying out loud); but if at some point we were given an afterlife by some unevidenced act of God—and that’s connected with our “immortal soul”— and other species don’t live on after death, at what point was that afterlife graciously vouchsafed to us? At the same time we got a soul? Or, you can aver that. contra Feser, every creature goes to heaven (including rotifers?), but I don’t know anybody who thinks that.

We have to face it: if you accept evolution, the most parsimonious hypothesis is that we’re part of a stream of genes extending back to the dawn of life, and there’s no evidence that we have features that couldn’t have evolved but were instilled by gods. And that rules out the possibility of souls and afterlives.  Those, of course, were already ruled out because there’s no evidence for them—they are wish thinking, pure and simple.

When theologians babble and blather, explaining how exactly God inserted his finger into the evolutionary process to ensure that we’d live on after death, they are trying to make a virtue of necessity. The afterlife is wish-thinking, pure and simple—something that Freud tried to tell us decades ago. Nobody, not even an eloquent poet, is going to live on after death.

But you knew this all already, right?

Amen.

Augustine the Hippo

Readers’ wildlife photos

March 20, 2019 • 7:30 am

Reader John Harshman sent some photos of bird banding; his notes are indented.

On the fourth Tuesday of every month, Edgar del Valle nets and bands birds at the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden. It happens we were there on one of those Tuesdays and took some pictures.

This is a dusky hummingbird Cynanthus sordidus being removed from the net. In contrast to many birds, hummingbirds seem completely resigned to their fate.

And here he is after removal:

Here’s a rufous-backed robin Turdus rufopalliatus, one of many robin species found in Mexico. And here’s a biogeography conundrum for you: why are there lots of species in the genus Turdus south of the U.S., lots of species in Europe and Asia, but only one species in the U.S. (with minor exceptions close to the southern border) and Canada?

This is a berylline hummingbird, Amazilia beryllina:

And a blue-gray gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea (finally, a bird you can find in Chicago!) calmly waiting for release:

JAC: If you’ve read this far, and appreciate the photos, please think of donating a few dollars to the Official Website Charity, Feline Friends London.

The captured birds are removed from the net, weighed and measured, given a metal leg-band with a unique number, and released. Here’s the rufous-backed robin having his band crimped around his leg.

And here he is having his wing measured and molt status assessed.

A great kiskadee Pitangus sulfuratus, a flycatcher in the process of evolving into a kingfisher, complains loudly about his treatment.

And he goes into a bag preparatory to being released.

This dusky hummingbird is being released. One odd thing about hummingbirds is that it takes them a while to decide to leave your hand, and it takes even longer if you lay them on their backs. There’s plenty of time to take a picture before they buzz off.

Bronzed cowbird Molothrus aeneus. Like its U.S. congener, it’s a nest parasite, and this is a female.

Finally, this isn’t a bird, but it’s one of my favorite species from the ethnobotanical garden. This unexciting little pod full of seeds is teosinte, Zea mays parviglumis—the ancestor of domestic corn.

It’s Abramek Koplowicz’s birthday

February 18, 2019 • 8:30 am

I didn’t know about this until I was told by Kelly Houle, who recently published a lovely art book containing English translations (from Polish) of Abramek Koplowicz’s poems, written in the Lodz Ghetto before he was gassed by the Nazis. Abramek Koplowicz was born on February 18, 1930, and had he lived he’d be 89 today. But he died at age 14, one of many Jewish children murdered by the Germans.

I’ve written about Abramek and his poetry, the English translations made by my friends Malgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson, and about Kelly’s book, here and here. The art book is beautiful, and you can see it and purchase it here.  (If you’d like to buy copies to donate to the Library of Congress, or places like D.C.’s Holocaust Museum, that would be great. I’m purchasing one for the University of Chicago’s rare book collection.) There’s also a recording of Kelly reading Abramek’s poetry, including the title poem “A Dream”, here.

Abramek’s stepbrother Lolek, who survived the camps and a death march, is still alive and living in Israel at 94. Lolek is the one who found Abramek’s poems in a school notebook among his father’s possessions (Abramek’s father also survived the camps). Lolek brought the poems to the attention of Israeli journalist Sarah Honig, who published the story in the Jerusalem Post, giving a longer version on her blog.  Here’s a bit of the story from that site:

[Abramek’s] father, Mendel Koplowicz, labored at a workshop producing cardboard boxes for the Germans. An ordained rabbi, he became a confirmed atheist after reading many secular philosophy books. Abramek worked at a shoe-making workshop, occasionally showing up at his father’s workshop to entertain the laborers by reciting poetry and satirical skits in verse. The handsome boy delighted his listeners, who unanimously agreed that he was a genius. One of those who heard him was Haya Grynfeld, Lolek’s mother and Mendel Koplowicz’s co-worker.

When the Koplowicz family was taken to Auschwitz, the mother, Yochet Gittel, was immediately sent to the gas chamber. The father and 14-year-old Abramek were sent to forced labor. But as he left for work, Mendel Koplowicz left his son in the barrack in order to protect him from the ordeal. Upon his return, he found it empty. The Germans had come and sent all those inside to death.

Lolek Grynfeld and his family lasted in Lodz even longer. The Germans rounded them up only in October 1944, by which time they no longer deported their victims to Auschwitz. Thus, Lolek – who was a bit older than Abramek –ended up in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and his mother in Ravensbruck. His father was killed early on in the German bombardments; Lolek did his work quota at a ghetto hospital until it was liquidated in 1942.

At war’s end, having miraculously escaped death at Sachsenhausen, he was taken on one of the infamous German death marches: “On the fifth night of the ordeal,” Grynfeld recalls, “they locked us up in an old stable. Several of us conspired to escape. I tripped one of the guards and the others finished him off with their wooden clogs.” Thus, after several hair-raising encounters with the Germans, Grynfeld and his mother managed to survive and both returned to Poland.

And then Lolek met another survivor, married her, and they had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Abramek’s memory is kept alive by Lolek (who has had a memorial to Abramek built in Israel and a street named after him in the Polish town where he was born), and also by this book.

Here’s the only existing photo of Abramek (from Honig’s blog); he’s in the center flanked by his parents. His mother was also gassed.

Abramek’s notebook with his poetry (note that it bears the date of 1943 and the fact that it was written in the ghetto):

A painting of a praying Jew made by Abramek (he was talented!):

And Kelly’s book:

Finally, here’s a small excerpt from Sarah Lawson’s introduction to the poems in Kelly’s book:

Between one and two million Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust. Most of their names are lost except in the memory of family members and the records at Yad Vashem. They had no time to distinguish themselves on a larger stage. A pitifully few names have come down to us. Anne Frank is the best known example, and there were a few other young diarists and letter writers. Out of a million and a half European children, how many might have had important careers in medicine, science, and the arts? How many would have become parents and grandparents of scholars and diplomats, of writers and musicians? This destroyed potential is unknowable but undoubted. Imagine them all lined up and holding hands. The line would stretch for more than 450 miles.

Defenders of Alice Walker’s anti-Semitism surface, including Al Jazeera

January 13, 2019 • 12:15 pm

The day after Christmas I reported on a controversy that involved the renowned author Alice Walker, whose most famous work was the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel The Color Purple. The controversy began when, in an interview with the New York Times about what books she was reading, Walker noted that one of them was And the Truth Shall Set You Free, by David Icke. Icke is a notorious anti-Semite and a total crackpot who thinks the world is controlled by giant alien lizards who are usually disguised as Jews. (He says he’s not anti-Semitic, just biased against Jews who are really reptiles.)

Now Walker didn’t just mention this book and let it be; it turns out that she’s been a fan of Icke and his crazy theories for years; and Walker’s anti-Semitism, also evident in her poems and prose, was called out by both Tablet and Vox.

This poses a dilemma for Leftists, who have traditionally fought bigotry against both blacks and Jews. But what do you do with a black author, like Walker, who hates Jews and suspects a reptile beneath their skins? Well, the Women’s March resolved a similar dilemma in favor of Louis Farrakahan as opposed to the Jews he hates, because, I guess, Jews are lower on the oppression scale than blacks. This saddens me, for, as I’ve said, Jews and blacks were once traditional allies, especially during the civil rights movement of the Sixties. Now prominent blacks like Walker and Louis Farrakhan are, with the approbation of their followers, attacking not just Israel but Jews.

It’s no surprise, then, that people are coming to Walker’s defense, either not having read her posts and poems about Jews, or having read them but deciding that the works’ anti-Semitism can be overlooked. One of Walker’s defenders is (no surprise again) Al Jazeera.

Reader J. J. has been closely following both Icke and the Walker controversy, and contributed her own thoughts to the issue, which I’ve put up here as a guest post (indented).

Regarding the WEIT post on Alice Walker, there have been a few new developments, including the tangential involvement of Angela Davis.

The first matter is that, concurrent with a second defense by Robert Cohen, Walker herself has mounted yet another clueless defense on her website, titled “Effort: helping to heal the world by making it more visible to one another” (huh?), with a note from the controversial Israeli professor and Palestinian rights activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who may be reevaluating her support for Walker—especially given that Peled-Elhanan comes from a Zionist family, albeit Leftist, and whose grandfather was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Once again, Walker and Cohen use the same poem, this time “Conscious Earthlings” (at Walker’s link above), which she states is “about the necessity of separating Jews from Zionist Nazis” as a ‘proof’ that Walker isn’t an antisemite. Given the timing and content, I can’t but wonder if Cohen and Walker are orchestrating these defenses.

Further, the term “Zionist Nazis” is odious enough on its own, but the poem “Conscious Earthlings” must be read in the context of Walker’s adherence to David Icke’s teachings and world view. The title alone is a tip-off: “Zionist Nazis” means Rothschild reptilians [JAC: Icke thinks the Rothschild family are among the reptiles disguised as Jews], not “real” Jews. This poem, such as it is, is nothing but a coded piece of reptilian propaganda for Icke, and I doubt that either Cohen or Peled-Elhanan understand this. Or perhaps for personal and political reasons they’d rather remain willfully ignorant of the specifics of Icke’s demented ideas and Alice’s infatuation with them and with Icke.

How Walker and Cohen or any of her defenders imagine that her poetry or anything else she puts forward demonstrates that she’s not anti-Semitic is completely beyond my ken. It does precisely the opposite. She is her own worst enemy. Everything Walker and her defenders have written is ignotum per ignotius and simply mires her more deeply in the cesspool of hate that she plunged into headfirst long ago.

Her latest attempt at PR spin was to post a brief, seemingly innocuous video, which shows Icke and Credo Mutwa, a Zulu shaman, and several other Zulu adherents wearing blue and white uniforms, gathered out in the veldt at the site where Credo Mutwa intends to erect his “Temple of Peace.” Icke gives a boilerplate New Agey inspirational exhortation about peace and love and then the Africans begin singing. How peaceful and beautiful! What Walker didn’t link to is the “Reptilian Agenda,” six hours of video of Icke and Credo Mutwa in conversation, just two crypto-herpetologists jawing about reptilians. Credo Mutwa claims to have eaten reptilian flesh after mistaking one for bush meat. Perhaps that was before he was fitted with glasses.

Then, several days ago, Al Jazeera published an opinion piece, “In defense of Alice Walker“, by Susan Abulhawa, who came out with guns blazing, blasting Walker’s critics with a take no prisoners, shoot-first-ask-questions-later style.

The author of this hit piece delegitimizes herself from the get-go by making an injudicious admission and stating two false assertions.

First, Abulhawa hubristically declares that she hasn’t read Icke and, what’s more, she doesn’t need to. She then states that Walker does not endorse Icke’s ideas: she simply had his book on her bedside table.

Abulhawa apparently hasn’t read much Alice Walker, either, especially not her blog posts, or she’d know that not only does Walker have a history of making egregiously anti-Semitic statements (and professes to be baffled when she’s called an anti-Semite), Walker has said and written that she considers Icke to be a genius—brilliant. She believes in the literality of Icke’s abominable fantasies about reptilian aliens and hybrids in the guise of “Rothschild Jews” (and a few gentiles), and Walker believes that what Icke says is true with the same fervor that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists believe in the literal truths in their holy books.

Walker proselytizes Icke’s gospel, and she has been doing so since 2012 or 2013. Faithful disciple that she is, she even made a pilgrimage to see her guru guy, touch the hem of his garment and bask in his vibes. The charming couple had a photo taken to memorialize the occasion.

https://twitter.com/davidicke/status/780821818970034176

Abulhawa also repeats Walker’s false assertion that she’s called an anti-Semite, “slandered” and condemned solely because of her support for Palestinians and BDS, and that Icke is also slandered by this accusation. Walkers’ assertion, though, is nothing but a red herring waved around to distract attention from the vile doctrines and myths that Icke propagates and that Alice Walker avows are real—that is what precipitated this particular eruption of outrage against Alice Walker, not her support for BDS and the Palestinians.

Some who have sympathy for the Palestinian cause—and BDS in particular—would not take kindly to Alice Walker if they realized she believes in the “reptilian agenda,” the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Holocaust revisionism, so it’s best to obfuscate that. Now Abulhawa has swooped in to defend Walker at all costs, truth be damned. Abdulhawa is good at practicing tu quoque; but what Abdulhawa doesn’t examine are the facts with respect to Alice Walker.

All of this takes on added significance because just a few days ago, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute decided against conferring the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award on Angela Davis because of her support for BDS and accusations that she is an anti-Semite. This, of course, is causing a furor. In my opinion, the matters of Alice Walker and Angela Davis should not be conflated. Walker, while also a supporter of BDS, has a raft of blatantly anti-Semitic statements to answer for that have nothing to do with BDS or Palestinian rights; and if she can link her case to that of Angela Davis, she can, I fear, successfully muddy the waters and deflect the discourse away from Icke.

To add yet another layer of ugly and ironic insanity, David Duke has given Walker a glowing endorsement, calling her a “courageous black woke womanist.” The notorious Holocaust denier David Irving even gives a tip of the hat to her in his newsletter, which reads thus:

Blacks don’t like them either: Alice Walker, answering backlash, praises the bravery of anti-Semitic author [David Icke]. Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] have been monitoring Walker’s talks and writing for years.”

I’m sure that Irving included the comment about the ADL to cement Walker’s credentials as an anti-Semite, and he’s also cynically messing with her, just as David Duke did.

When Alice Walker protests that she and David Icke aren’t anti-Semites, but simply supporters of Palestinian rights who are being unjustly tarred and feathered, I’m reminded of what Andrew Gillum said to Ron DeSantis during a debate when they were running for Governor of Florida last year. To paraphrase Gillum: I’m not calling Walker an anti-Semite, I’m simply saying that anti-Semites believe she’s an anti-Semite.”

Finally, I find yet another screed on the Al Jazeera site that relates to all this: “The Zionist Fallacy of Jewish Supremacy” by Yoav Litvin, subtitled “Framing Zionism as Jewish and not white supremacy is a dangerous proposition,” which relates to a number of WEIT posts on the nature of Zionism, most recently this one.

The Nation grovels to the mob, abasing itself by apologizing for a poem it published

August 1, 2018 • 10:00 am

On July 5, The Nation published a poem called “How-To” by Anders Carlson-Wee, a young white man.  It describes how panhandlers, the homeless, and others asking for money should behave. That behavior, as you can see in the poem, involves using tactics designed to pry money out of people who are reluctant to give some spare change. The argot used by the poet is that of some black people, although others say simply “Southerners.” Read it for yourself (click on screenshots to go to the poem and apology page):

 

The Torrington Register Citizen in Connecticut notes :

The poem offers advice to presumably homeless panhandlers on the best way to pry cash from passersby, including this line: “If you’re crippled don’t /
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough / Christians to notice.”

Throughout the poem, the narrator also adopts an ungrammatical vernacular that many readers found equally troubling: “Don’t say homeless, they know / you is.”

Those on social media actually found two problems with the poem. First is its “ableism”, which doesn’t bother me so much as it’s about homeless and disabled people asking for money, and that’s simply a fact of life. The other parts, about how to get more money out of passersby, may be imagined, but there are surely tactics that panhandlers and the disabled use that have brought them more money. Having a nearby animal as your pet helps, as does displaying one’s handicap and so on. And surely some of these tactics have been passed among the disabled and homeless. I have no issue with this, though I’m not sure “How-To” constitutes “poetry” in my book, as it lacks meter, imaginative images or interesting language. That’s a matter of taste. Nevertheless, The Nation considered it poetry and published it.

The second issue is the use of language: black argot like “You hardly even there” or “they know you is”, which, I suppose would be okay if the poet was black but was deemed cultural appropriation because he was white. That could seem a bit more problematic, but then there are people who speak this way, and the use of other people’s English has been part of literature for a long time, including in “Huckleberry Finn” and “A Passage to India.” On balance, I don’t find the poem problematic.

But many people did, and let The Nation know on social media, considering the poem not only ableist but racist. A few examples:

After I wrote the above, I asked Grania for her take on the poem, and she gave me permission to quote her view:

From what I can see the poem is about how to claw back some semblance of power while in a position of submission or powerlessness, which is an interesting concept. The narrative voice is describing their fictional self and their own actions and acting. It’s got nothing to do with “othering” or “belittling” communities, and anyone claiming to be hurt or injured after reading the poem needs a big sign tattooed backwards on their forehead so that every time they look in the mirror they can read the words:
IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU

I suppose the editors should have been prepared by this kind of social media pushback, but instead of defending their right to publish what they wanted, they issued an apology almost unparalleled in its groveling.  Their admission, for example, that the poem is “ableist” is not supportable: the poem is about being disabled and having to ask for money. As for having caused “harm to several communities”, the harm is only to feelings (n.b. “the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem.”). But the poem will damage no minority group. And the editors now feel that they have to earn the readers’ trust back, when in fact some readers defended the poem’s publication and criticized this apology.

This kind of groveling and truckling to the mob is, to me, absolutely contemptible:

The poem had its defenders, and the Nation its critics for apologizing:

https://twitter.com/jonkay/status/1024144201439694848

and from philosopher Jeremy Stangroom:

There’s a good case to be made that The Nation should have followed Stangroom’s advice.

Nevertheless, the poet apologized on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/AndersWeePoet/status/1021794320435699712

According to Page Six, the poet’s apology didn’t still the critics, who piled on even more, calling Carlson-Wee’s use of the phrase “eye-opening” ableist as well. And according to the tweeter below, the apology didn’t go far enough (Carlson-Wee donated his fee to charity). There is nothing he can do now, for he has been cast into the pit of perdition, and this will follow Carlson-Wee forever. As a poet, he’s toast.

This is now what’s happening in America (and Canada and the UK): the thought police, screaming on social media, are baying for people’s jobs and reputations because their words don’t conform to what critics see as the ideologically correct position. Literature is especially vulnerable since it’s imaginative and doesn’t always deal with the writer’s sex, ethnicity, or race.

If those who oppose the thought police remain silent, the Pecksniffs will win by default, so it’s up to us to criticize this kind of censorship and apologetics whenever we can.

h/t: cesar