Technical Landscapes: submission deadline coming up

The submission deadline (December 14) for “Technical Landscapes,” the conference I’m co-organizing for this April, is coming up fast. For those who may have been distracted by events in the last few weeks, we wanted to offer a reminder as well as note that we have some very exciting additions to the conference programming. More information awaits at our website.

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.

What Are We, Singapoor? Part 6+Haw Par Villa

When I got out of the taxi, its automated message said, “Don’t forget anything.” My driver repeated, “Don’t forget anything,” to emphasize that only nitwits forget shit in taxis. But it’s almost like he knew what I was about to witness at Haw Par Village.

I walked in as probably the only American person to visit this place ever. While the front bulletin board claimed that there are frequent shows and even alluded to the fact that Scottish performers appear sometimes, nothing appeared open and I don’t think anyone actually works here. I could not convey in words what this place was like at all. Instead, these are my photographs.

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Upon leaving, I caught a cab back to Chinatown. My driver was having an angry verbal battle with someone on his headset microphone. Then he starts to count his money while we’re stopped at a red light. After, he begins muttering my destination again and again under his breath. At that point, I realize he may have been talking to himself the entire time. In essence, he did all the creepy things a cab driver could do without kidnapping and murdering me.

I don’t worry very much about being taken because I think I would almost certainly be killed immediately and there’s just no reason to get hot and bothered about that. I have this wonderful image of my dad calling the killers and saying, “I have a very particular set of skills…” and then stopping him there and being like, “What are you going to do, reframe us?” Sad, but true.

Then there are those times when MasterCard suddenly decides both of your cards shouldn’t work and you’re trying to pay for your dinner without cellphone coverage and you’re racing to the Arab Street money changer to convert $50 into $60 SD just to pay your Turkish restauranteur. Then you decide to get a drink afterwards at this pleasant little hidden bar only to realize you don’t have enough cash for that and your cards are still getting declined, except now the moneychangers are closed too and everything is just falling apart.

At the bar:

“Boston, eh? When I think of Boston, I only think of one thing: Harvard.” How little he knew…

Driving around Singapore I’ve noticed how different homelessness is around here compared to America where it’s kind of crazy-looking middle-aged folks or hippies (in Cambridge, at least). In Singapore the homeless dudes are almost all Bangladeshi guys wearing construction company clothes sleeping under random awnings.

According to this helpful diagram, a taxi cab can fit four regular-sized people if they all have only one arm or SIX MICRO PEOPLE.

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This is a real sign. I read it as, “Stop, or we will blast you in the fucking face.”

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I went into the floating Louis Vuitton island today — yeah, you read that right, a floating island that Louis Vuitton built just so they could have one. The store has multiple floors, although my favorite is probably the bookstore section. THE LOUIS VUITTON BOOKSTORE SECTION. Apparently a lot of Singaporean students choose French as their main language for college applications because of the popularity of LV in Asia. Is that horrifying or what? Yes. I thought only pretentious people who wanted to read Proust in the original chose French anymore… The people in the store kind of realized pretty quickly that I had absolutely no right being anywhere near the place and kind of evil-eyed me until I left. You can walk into the Louis Vuitton island store but you can also take a private boat there. Yep, a private boat.

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