Götz and Meyer

Was totally blown away by David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer. Almost sat down to re-read right after finishing. Some haunting but wonderful segments:

“They never even spoke of their own, or my, Jewish identity, convinced, I guess, that if evil were to come knocking at our door again, the silence would make us invisible. So what I knew was limited to the most general facts from textbooks, history, films, and works of literature, which didn’t in any way suggest that those facts had anything to do with me. History was, after all, impersonal, at least as a discipline, it couldn’t exist at the level of the individual, because then it would be impossible to grasp. That was why every history came down to searching for the smallest and largest common denominators, as if every person were the same, and all human destinies were equal. Perhaps it might seem that these claims were unfounded, but I will try to explain them with a simple example. History drily informs us that the German occupying forces issued an order on April 16, 1941, to register and identify all Jews, and that by July 13 that same year, as is stated in the periodical business report that the Municipality of Belgrade submitted to the Ministry of the Interior, nearly 9,500 Belgrade Jews registered. This is where history has no more to say. All you need to do, however, is to wonder how each of those 9,500 men, women, and children felt when they donned the yellow armband or the six-pointed star, and history begins to crumble and fail. History has no time for feelings, even less for trauma and pain, and least of all for dull helplessness, for the inability to grasp what is happening. One day you are a human being, and the next, despite the armband or perhaps precisely because of it, you are invisible. No, that is not history, it is a catastrophe of cosmic proportions, in which every individual is a separate cosmos. Nine thousand five hundred universes shift from a steady to a gaseous state, more than merely metaphorically, especially when you think of those five thousand souls who became acquainted with the back of Götz and Meyer’s truck.” (34-35)


“The completed family tree, drawn on a large piece of white paper, lay on the desk in my sitting room. I carefully wrote out all the names and dates, underlined in black marker all the family lines, circled in red all the names of people who were still alive. I started drawing the first version from above, descending in all directions, and then I stopped, thinking that the network of life and death shouldn’t look like a fern dangling from a flowerpot suspended from a hook on the ceiling. The next time I started from below, at the spot where the tree should have its roots, and only then was I able to breathe a sigh of relief. Above the dense treetop, my branch protruded like a young shoot stubbornly refusing to admit that the tree had withered. At the age of fifty, especially taking my ailing spine into consideration, I would have been better of speaking of myself as a stick rather than as a young shoot, but therein lies the absurdity of every representation of life, and any representation of reality will never be the same reality itself, and there is nothing I can do about it. So, I figured, if I couldn’t dive into life, perhaps I could dive into death. Hence Götz and Meyer. By the way, Götz was called Wilhelm, and Meyer’s name was Erwin. I never saw them and I could only imagine them, as I did from the moment when I first stumbled upon their names, and as I shall do until the moment I close my eyes forever — I have always been appalled at the prospect of dying with my eyes open – and go off to wherever it is that nearly all my relatives went.” (44-45)


“Everyone likes being appreciated in the workplace, why not Götz and Meyer? Meyer even confessed to me that he felt his heart beat faster and that later, when he recalled those days, he would shiver. Look at this: I am beginning to imagine myself talking with people whose faces I don’t even know. I knew precious little, indeed, about the face of most of my kin, but in their case I can at least look at my own face in the mirror and seek their features there, whereas with Götz and Meyer I had no such help. Anyone could have been Götz. Anyone could have been Meyer, and yet Götz and Meyer were only Götz and Meyer, and no one else could be who they were. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that I constantly had this feeling that I was slipping, even when I was walking on solid ground. The void that was Götz and Meyer so contrasted with the fullness of my relatives, if not of their real beings at least of their deaths, that my every attempt to reach fullness required that first I had to pass through void. For me to truly understand real people like my relatives, I had first to understand unreal people like Götz and Meyer. Not to understand them: to conjure them. Sometimes I simply had to become Götz, or Meyer, so I could figure out what Götz, or Meyer (really I), thought about Meyer, or Götz (really I), meant to ask. This Götz who was not really Götz spoke to this Meyer who was not really Meyer. My hands tremble a little when I think of it all. Nothing easier than to stray into the wasteland of someone else’s consciousness. It is more difficult to be master of one’s own fate; simpler to be master of someone else’s. (65-66)

The Carter Shift in Foreign Policy (in Jacobin)

Finally, Carter took a hard right turn on foreign policy. Reeling from the blow of the Iranian Revolution, which had overthrown a loyal US client regime, the president promised that the US would deploy military force to defend its interests in the Middle East. It is one of the few promises in American politics that has been kept.

— Paul Heideman, “It’s Their Party,” Jacobin, February 2016.

“Cutting Ourselves Apart” @ Reconfiguring Human and Non-Human 2015

Below is the slightly edited text of my talk from the “Reconfiguring Human and Non-Human” seminar at Jyväskylä.

1.1. Introduction  Continue reading ““Cutting Ourselves Apart” @ Reconfiguring Human and Non-Human 2015″

A Prairie Drone Companion – now available

My short provocation for Culture Machine’s “Drone Culture” issue is now up (with a wonderful response) and it’s open access, so just jump right over to Culture Machine or Academia. My more extended take on Drone agriculture won’t be appearing until late 2015 or early 2016 in Ashgate’s Rise of the Good Drone.

Rudest Book Review

This is as mean as I’ve seen in a while and from a mathematician

In the opinion of the reviewer, this is a poorly written textbook, covering the usual basic material on groups, rings, and fields. The book is not at all affected by the changes in modern algebra in the last twenty-eight years and the reviewer fails to see how any student could benefit by its use. The proofs are often needlessly long and complicated (e.g., the construction of a quotient field of an integral domain occupies 31 printed 2 pages) and the book is burdened with non-illuminating examples. For the most part, the exercises are routine, except for one or two which are much too difficult for the intended audience: Ex. 3.51 on p. 167 asks for a proof that every finite division ring is commutative, with no hints whatsoever being given!

There are far too many criticisms of exposition, arrangement, and choice of material that the reviewer feels should be made to warrant printing them here. The following samples should suffice: 1. It is surely out of place nowadays to prove the fundamental theorem for finite abelian groups, p. 46, without studying modules over Euclidean or principal ideal rings. This is done in spite of the fact that there is a long discussion of Euclidean rings and unique factorization. 2. Starting on p. 67, equivalence relations and classes are treated in ponderous detail, yet these concepts are never mentioned, let alone used, in connection with cosets or residue classes. 3. The chapter on rings has a proof of the Hilbert basis theorem, and the field chapter includes an incomplete treatment of finite fields. Now, the Hilbert theorem is pointless without further work showing its application to ideals in polynomial rings and algebraic geometry, while a treatment of finite fields that fails to state that a finite field is determined up to isomorphism by the number of its elements and does not touch the existence theorem is not useful. — A. Rosenberg (1958)