April 30, 2009
by Kim Nagy
Raja Shehadeh, Sergio Ramirez and Salman Rushdie
Photo by Joy Stocke
The PEN World Voices Festival (a week-long celebration of world literature featuring 160 writers from 41 countries and sponsored by Penguin this year) kicked off last night with the Evolution/ Revolution headliner featuring authors like Edwidge Daniticat, Muriel Burberry, Sergio Ramirez, Raja Shehadeh, and Salman Rushdie—many of whom read their work in their own language.
On the way into Cooper Union, we met Tom Rochowicz, a fifth grade writing teacher at Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn . When we asked him how his attendance at PEN would pan out for his students, he laughed. “My students think writing is just getting words on paper, an assignment to be completed, so I guess I want to expose my passion for writing.”
The PEN World Voices Festival promotes love of language, reverence for the role of writers in telling the truth in so many societies around the world and a recognition that human advancement is wholly dependent on the free exchange of ideas.
On Wednesday night, we heard Palestinian Raja Shehadeh relate his encounter with an Israeili settler (who Shehadeh noticed had kind intelligent eyes…and a gun by his side) in the Ramallahan hills. As Shehadeh read in a gentle voice not without humor, it struck me that telling and listening to stories–finding the avenues of possibility available to us in language allows us to look directly in the eyes of mothers and fathers, cousins and brothers, who might otherwise be violently shoved into a cliché or stereotype. And the fact is: such stereotypes are dangerous.
In the opening poem by Narcis Comadira, from Catalonia Spain, “The Triumph of Life” Comadira read in his native tongue, Catalan and took listeners…
“into something rich and strange..” (quoting William Shakespeare)
“what powerful urge can wake your brief core… in the most imperceptible hard residue of stone?…imperceptible tenderness…eternal longing….The light of the name.”
Yes, “the light of the name.” For there is a flame, a brave match that is struck when we name our truth in detail despite the very real horrors of censorship around the world—a crucial light that comes to life inside of us (and is seen and heard by others) when we move beyond the dull shadows, beyond the imprisonment of stereotypes, beyond the dark of our fears—so we can see a little more clearly—story by story.
For more coverage on PEN World Voices, bookmark WRR@large.
Kim Nagy is Executive Editor of Wild River Review.
April 27, 2009
Torture and Patriotism
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise” Bishop Berkeley
In spite of the fact that the United States has more great universities than any other nation, from Harvard and MIT in the East, to Duke in the South, Michigan in the North, and Stanford and Berkeley in the West, we remain a raw, barbaric, and proudly ignorant nation.
Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are popular indicators that there are definitely more stupid than smart people here in this great land of ours, and what this means for the rest of us is that our culture is not really founded on ideas, the Enlightenment from Locke to Jefferson, and the Constitution; it is founded on the alpha male primate politics of identity, group loyalty, fear, and violence as a solution to all problems. If we all have brains, in the Good Old USA, it is the amygdala that rules and not the neocortex.
And so we had a War on Poverty, and now have a War on Drugs, and a War on Terror. We cannot conceive of a polity or an economy that is not based on war against a hated and feared Other. Ideologically, we appear on the surface to be democratic; economically in our deep structure, we are plutocratic. Although Big Business calls the shots and shapes the mentality through the media it owns, the loud majority fears Big Government more than Big Business, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks indicated in his April 24th column.
For the eight years of the Cheney and Bush administration, we saw just what happens when this Chimp primate mentality takes over a government founded upon the Enlightenment document of our U.S. Constitution. We had the War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the institutionalization of torture as the due process of law. Clever constitutional lawyers like David Addington and John Yoo used their knowledge and skills to reconstruct torture, not as the hated legacy of the Inquisition that our Founding Fathers as Masons loathed and wished to expel and entomb in the historical graveyard of bad ideas, but as a necessary evil against the Terror that was out to destroy us.
Once the constitutional lawyers had been corrupted, the physicians were next to be injected with this malicious toxin as they were called in to violate their Hippocratic oath and to keep watch over the victims so that they would not die, but could be kept at the edge of life in order that the torture could continue. This new policy was founded on the horrific images of 9/11. Libertarians all around the country, however, insist that 9/11 was, like the Nazi burning of the Reichstag blamed on the Bolsheviks, actually a CIA American attack intended to support a suspension of civil liberties and a declaration of martial law. Libertarian taxi drivers have a handful of DVDs that they give to chatty customers like me to convince us that they are not paranoid weirdos.
A few inches away from the Republican apologetics of David Brooks in the New York Times is the liberal Prolegomena to Any Future Polity of Paul Krugman. This Nobel laureate and Princeton professor is obviously one of the smart people in this vast land of Clear Channel mediums. (If you’ve ever driven a pickup truck around in rural Colorado and New Mexico and tuned in to the local radio station, you will know what I mean.)
Krugman argues for an unrelenting investigation and prosecution of the last administration’s agents of torture. Personally, and on the emotional basis of horror and repulsion, I would like to see David Addington and John Yoo disbarred, and Yoo expelled from his professorship at Berkeley in a reaffirmation of professional ethics, but I back away from the prosecution of Cheney and Bush for the coldest and most calculatingly rational of reasons. I fear the paranoid and populist Right Wingers of this country. If we set a precedent, then every incoming administration of one party will seek to prosecute the previous administration of the opposite party.
Like someone stopping to take his antibiotics before the bottle is empty, thinking his infection is cured, we run the risk of having the Civil War spring back to life with all its ugly hatreds because we never really healed ourselves of that malady in either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Libertarians are paranoid and that 9/11 was not an American burning of the Reichstag. But those DVDs are out there in circulation, and they certainly could inspire some cabal of right wing and racist paramilitary nuts to create another seemingly Islamist terrorist attack and blame it on Obama to say that at least under Cheney and Bush we were safe. The country would split wide open, and this time it would be the liberal scientific Northeast, and not cowboy Texas, that would want to secede from the rugged individualist politics of the Wild West.
So although I admire Paul Krugman’s ideas, and wish that he and not Larry Summers were the economics guru to the President, I back away from his vigorous moral crusade, fearing that in the enantiodromias of history in which one movement turns into its opposite, this campaign will achieve the opposite of what it intends. We will risk turning a cultural cold war into a hot civil war.
Yes, we are, or should be, a nation under the rule of law, so the investigation should continue to expose the metastatic extent of this cancer in our polity. But we should stop short of trying to prosecute Cheney and Bush—even though I believe them to be the guilty culprits who are responsible for the policy of torture. We need something closer to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, rather than the trials of the Shah’s SAVAK torturers that created the new foundation for the tyranny of the Ayatollah’s theocratic Iran.
If we were to prosecute Cheney and Bush, then it should be for treason in lying to the assembled government of Congress and the Supreme Court and violating their oaths of office. Perhaps, then, the Conservatives might see that the neocons did not conserve but betrayed their country and its constitution, and then Libertarian and Leftist could unite in saving our country from its decline.
Cultural historian, poet and philosopher, William Irwin Thompson, writes regularly for Wild River Review.
April 23, 2009
The Murdered Come Out at Night
by Saadi Youssef
Headline – New York Times April 23, 2009
At Least 75 People are Killed in Attacks in Iraq
At night they awake,
their white eyes forever open wide.
And in the city, even through its narrow alleys,
they walk, their shrouds hardly concealing their limbs.
They walk. Their mouths are orchards
of lead, singing, and the alleys resound.
We hear them when the children shiver.
No other sound can voice this wild despair.
A sound that knocks on doors and burns
like a bird crossing the valley of death and flowering.
May ends…and from the waves of its banners
blood will gush to startle a dozing nation.
Saadi Youssef is one of the leading poets of the Arab world. Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, he has published thirty volumes of poetry and seven books. The Murdered Come out at Night is collected in the volume, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face. published by Greywolf Press. In 2007, Wild River Review interviewed him at the PEN American Center World Voices Festival.
April 14, 2009
by Angie Brenner
Biricek Dam, Southeastern Turkey
Last week, a reporter on National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed people in Turkey about their bid to join the European Union (EU), and the EU’s continued rejection of that bid. The wound, which has been festering for a half a century, was opened once again during President Obama’s recent visit to Turkey where he said that America would be in favor of Turkey joining the EU.
There were two comments from this news segment that caught my attention. One was the response by French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who immediately rejected the suggestion that Turkey should become part of the EU; and the second was a Turkish citizen who voiced the opinion of many by saying that Turkey shouldn’t try so hard to win favor with the EU because as he said, “We have everything we need here.”
While most of its citizens are Muslim, Turkey remains clearly a secular republic, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who founded the Republic in 1924. Did Sarkozy forget that the success of the Turkish Republic was partly based on its alignment with the French? Ataturk was greatly influenced by Europe, enough to change Turkey’s alphabet from Arabic to Roman, and adopt the French judicial system. Anyone who walks through Istanbul’s Beyolgu neighborhood cannot dismiss the French art deco architecture.
Being something of a Turkophile – I’ve traveled and written about the country for years, along with WRR Editor in Chief, Joy Stocke – I had to smile to myself at the proud comment by the Turkish man. Since 1959 ,Turkey has worked to formally establish itself with Europe; and, since 1987, has been in process to enter into the European Union, often to the complaints of its people.
“Why should we bow to Europe when they need us more then we need them?” is a common statement on the street. The “we have everything,” comment isn’t too far from the truth. From the Aegean, across the Anatolian heartland, and to the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Turkey has an abundance of food and water, two of the world’s most prized possessions. Has Europe turned a blind-eye to one of the world’s most ambitious water projects known as GAP, the Southeastern Anatolia Project, that establishes 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and their tributaries?
Today, Turkey controls the taps to the water flowing into Syria and Iraq. A few years ago, Joy and I were invited to tour the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River near Syria. The locations of dams unfortunately come at a high historical cost since the Birecik Dam has flooded ancient ruins. The Roman city of Zeugma, the ‘Turkish Pompeii’ with many exquisite mosaics, lies submerged. The shiny new turbines and concrete walls that hold back millions of gallons of water will help to irrigate fields of cotton in the volatile east. We’ve been to a similar sight on the Tigris River where the Ilusu Dam will cover the village of Hasankeyv and ancient ruins and control the flow of water directly into Baghdad.
NOTE: see the March issue of Smithsonian Magazine:
Hasankeyf - Tigris River, Southeastern Turkey
While the West frets over world oil resources, Turkey is quickly garnering control of water in the Near and Middle East. With deep Christian and Persian roots, Turkey has never been a country to be dismissed. How long can Europe and the West continue its prejudice against Turkey and at what future cost?
Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review. Her book, Anatolian Days and Nights, chronicling her journeys through Turkey, will be published next year.
April 10, 2009
by William Irwin Thompson
“We Irish think otherwise” Bishop Berkeley
Question: What do Creative Writing departments and Athlete’s Foot have in common?
Answer: They both are parasitical forms of life in the wrong place that stink from enclosure and make it harder to run and jump under the sun.
Gott sei Dank that Europe has not yet been taken over by this American literary theme park artificial culture. Creative Writing programs are popular with American students because they don’t have to study very much and so can spend their college years smoking dope, writing self-indulgent adolescent crap, and narcissistically fussing over “finding their own voice.” The way to kill good writers is to ask them to teach Creative Writing to fill their minds with the bad writing of sophomores for years on end. Better that a writer should study the geology of the moons of Jupiter, read Nature, and write when after work she is inspired by the knowledge of bacteria and stars.
Now I have no objection to students taking courses in how to write poetry or fiction, but these should simply be electives in an English department and not a major unto itself. However, if one wished to live in a perfect world, then, I think, it would be better that “English” be retired and replaced with “Literature,” and that every major be required to read in one classical language of her choice—Latin, Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, or classical Chinese) and one modern language other than her native tongue. By having English as a patriotic, heroic narrative, one makes historical mistakes: such as starting the study of the European novel with Richardson and Defoe instead of Lazarillo de Tormes and Don Quijote, or beginning one’s study of Arthurian literature with Mallory instead of Chrétien de Troyes and the Welsh Mabinogion, or reading Spenser but not Ariosto. A Literature major would avoid these mistakes and affirm our new planetary civilization by no longer looking upon Spanish and French as “foreign languages.” They are North American languages and U.S. college students should, at least, have an intermediate reading knowledge of both.
Writers need to know things. William Carlos Williams was a doctor and Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. Writers should major in engineering or medicine, archaeology or philosophy, and only minor in literature. Thomas Pynchon started out majoring in engineering at Cornell, then went into the navy, and only then returned to Cornell to study literature with Nabokov et alia.
A few years back in 2006, John Barr in Poetry magazine uttered a cry of the heart for an American poetry that was not owned by Creative Writing Departments and MFA programs, but I found his essay surprising in that he did not look beyond Creative Writing’s official trade union journals like Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, or Prairie Schooner, to find other forms of the poetic life expressed in a non-academic literature. Had he extended his horizon to the web and its new literary journals, he would have encountered, for just one example, the embodied knowing of JC. Todd.
If one stops to look back to our own Anglo-American tradition with Blake, Dickinson, or Yeats, one will realize that these three were deeply rooted in world views that were not shared by their contemporaries. Great poetry is not simply the clever magazine poetry that is easily published and more easily read. Clever poetry expresses a a sociology of surfaces, but great poetry expresses a deeper and wider cosmology. Poetry magazine and the New Yorker tend to be partial to a poetry that is often simply cute and trivial and part of a collective Denkstil that is fashionably anti-poetic. Most often the poem is simply a short story typographically cast as verse.
Now I am not so naïve as to think Creative Writing departments will either change or be incorporated in Literature departments. When Harvard’s Helen Vendler favorably reviews her Harvard colleague and friend Jorie Graham in the New York Review of Books, you know that the Established Church is not about to become Shaker simple or heretically visionary.
So cultural evolution on the web and in new media will have to become its own bride of quietness and foster-child of silence and slow time.
Cultural philosopher and historian William Irwin Thompson is founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
Thompson coined the term Wissenskunst” (literally, “knowledge-art”) (a German term) to describe his own work. Contrasting it with Wissenschaft, the German term for science, Thompson defines Wissenskunst as “the play of knowledge in a world of serious data-processors.”
His poetic work, Canticum, Turicum, will be published as part of a larger work, Still Travels, by Wild River Books in July, 2009.
April 5, 2009
- Jonathan Maberry
AN INTERVIEW WITH JONATHAN MABERRY
JANICE GABLE BASHMAN
“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.
And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.” Joe Ledger from Patient Zero
Armed with the strength to survive a brutal childhood, an overwhelming desire to write, and the advice of two great authors (Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury), Jonathan Maberry found success as a writer. PATIENT ZERO, Maberry’s newest book, grabs the reader by the throat and never lets go.
Wild River Review chats with Jonathan about his writing and what makes a good thriller so thrilling.
WRR: You stated Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury changed your life when you were a teenager. They gave you signed copies of their books and talked to you about the nature of storytelling. Why was this so significant, and how did it affect you?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Matheson and Bradbury were iconic figures even when I was a kid in the early 1970s. To have them offer advice on how to approach a career in writing was invaluable.
Matheson told me to think beyond the surface plot, to delve into the motivations of the characters, and to spend time postulating on the paths that led the characters to the moment of this story.
That advice took hold, though for the next thirty years I applied it to my process of critical analysis when reading other writers work, watching film or TV, or attending plays. In 2004 I restarted a novel (GHOST ROAD BLUES) I’d taken a weak swing at in 1996, but which I’d not finished. That happened largely because I’d been re-reading one of Matheson’s best books, The Shrinking Man, which has layer upon layer of psychological subtext. As I read, I began to think about the characters I’d created for my novel and realized that I’d done it the wrong way: I’d created characters but not actual ‘people.’ I applied Matheson’s advice and went into the manuscript to discover who these people were. And as a result, I wrote a much better story.
Ghost Road Blues went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2006. It was followed by two sequels: Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising.
Bradbury had a different approach. He talked to me about finding the magic in the moment. In any moment. He encouraged me to ‘look inside the world’ to see what makes it tick. Not just the gears and motors that run society and people’s lives, but what he called the ‘purified oil of belief.’
He also said that there were stories happening all around, every second of every day. To see the stories, and to capture them in a tale, required that a writer learn to pay attention and to think beyond simple action. He advised that paying attention meant more than watching and recording, but instead involved the cultivation of genuine interest in what people said and did. Interest, he cautioned, without judgment.
He also made a comment – said offhand at the time, but which I believe is a fundamental truth for writers: ‘Writing is 99% thinking about it…and the rest is typing.’
Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I’ve read that book (though, admittedly not that copy) every Halloween since. Matheson had given me a copy of I AM LEGEND the previous spring, and I still regard it as the book that changed me as a writer. It was not only a collision of genre (science fiction and horror), but an intellectual novel with many layers of social commentary built into its lean prose.
WRR: Your novels deal with human darkness, and your characters confront and overcome, despite great odds, those who seek to destroy good people. Why is this such a universal theme, and why are you drawn to it?
MABERRY: I had a pretty dark childhood. Understanding that darkness was not something that only affected me, but was crucial to my personal survival. Later it gave me insight that I used when teaching self-defense and safety awareness programs. I was also one of those rare children who was able to become tough enough to defeat my own monsters. That’s a remarkably empowering process. It influenced how I taught self-defense because it came from a sure knowledge that the darkness can be pushed back.
It also influenced my writing. Unlike a lot of colleagues of mine who write about scary things like monsters, I never identified with the monster. I was always rooting for the vampire hunter. It’s not a surprise that my writing often deals with a seemingly unstoppable threat that ordinary people are able to rise up against and overthrow.
WRR: In Patient Zero, a weaponized plague turns humans into zombies, threatening the world. What is the real science behind Patient Zero, and how did you use it to make the plot plausible?
MABERRY: I was doing research for a nonfiction pop-culture book on zombies (they’re the hot monster right now). I asked scientists and doctors to speculate on how science might explain zombies (as they appear in the movies). I expected to get very few scientifically useful answers on that, but they came back to me with tons of hard science. Much of it ‘possible’ though luckily not ‘probable.’
The core of the science is a prion disease called ‘fatal familial insomnia.’ Mad Cow is a prion disease. The insomnia prion disease causes its victims to stay perpetually awake until they become exhausted, deranged, and mindless; and then they die. A weaponized version of that disease became the core of Patient Zero.
WRR: Who is Joe Ledger?
MABERRY: Joe Ledger is a Baltimore cop with enough emotional baggage to open a luggage store. We meet Joe shortly after his girlfriend has committed suicide. Joe is a bit of a mess from that and earlier childhood trauma. He’s learned to use his damage in ways that make him very formidable. These qualities bring him to the attention of an elite Rapid Response group formed to confront radical bioweapons. The Department of Military Science (DMS) has already come up against the terrorists with the prion plague, and that first encounter was a disaster. Joe is brought in to lead a counter-attack.
WRR: You said a good “thriller asks big questions: What is disintegration? What is moral choice? What forces are at work to change the natural order of things?” What do you hope people will talk about after reading Patient Zero?
MABERRY: Mysteries are about solving a crime; thrillers are all about preventing something very bad from happening. The bad guys are planning something big, and because this is something ‘planned’ (as opposed to a murder committed in the heat of the moment) the motivations for the bad guys tend to run a little deeper than in mysteries, which allows the author to get inside those minds and really crawl around. Heroes in thrillers are usually smart and resourceful.
People who have already read the book generally talk about the characters and how real they are. People talk about ‘people’ in the book. And that’s deeply satisfying to me.
Janice Gable Bashman is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. Her most piece for the magazine featured comic strip artist, Lynn Johnston.
Jonathan Maberry is the author of numerous articles and books. Patient Zero is the first in an ongoing series.
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