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the work of history

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    During the Korean War, Soseong-ri, an agricultural village 120 miles southeast of Seoul, was so remote, so nestled among hidden valleys, that residents were insulated from any sign of the conflict. While bombs pummeled the land in other parts of the country, farmers in the village continued tilling theirs. Today, Soseong-ri remains small — it’s comprised of roughly 160 people, most of whom are in their 70s and 80s — but it is far less quiet. In February, South Korea’s defense ministry selected a hillside golf course in the area as the site for the U.S.’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), designed to shoot down missiles from the North.

    Thousands of South Koreans have flocked to the village in protest, and residents, too, are expressing their discontent. Buddhist monks pray in 12-hour shifts alongside young activists who have pitched tents outside the U.S. Army base. Farmers, who have spent generations harvesting melons in the region, now leave their fields early to protest. Older women, who once spent their mornings playing Go-Stop, a traditional Korean card game, now congregate to watch the news. Banners criticizing the American military’s presence have been strung from trees, and people have taken to the roads leading to the base in an attempt to block vehicles from transporting equipment.

    As one villager put it, “I live a life of endless tension and fatigue, which I never experienced before.” Here, people share, in their own voices (주민들의 목소리를 들어 보자), what life is like in Soseong-ri.

    CHAE GU LEE, 84

    I have never left this village in my life. There is a cemetery on the hill of the golf club, and 30 years ago, there was a big fire there. But the graves miraculously survived. Now, I cannot visit the place where my parents have been laid to rest because the U.S. says it is a military zone. But that is not a military zone. That is my family zone. That is our zone. I should go there to cut the weeds and tidy up the graves.

    Up in Arms: The South Korean village at the center of an anti-war movement

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    Edwin Austin Abbey
    The Queen in “Hamlet,” 1895

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    Horace Vernet
    The Lion Hunter, 1833

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  • 08/09/17--10:10: Hiroshima
  • Hiroshima:

    There was no sound of planes. The morning was still; the place was cool and pleasant.

    Then a tremendous flash of light cut across the sky. Mr. Tanimoto has a distinct recollection that it travelled from east to west, from the city toward the hills. It seemed a sheet of sun. Both he and Mr. Matsuo reacted in terror—and both had time to react (for they were 3,500 yards, or two miles, from the center of the explosion). Mr. Matsuo dashed up the front steps into the house and dived among the bedrolls and buried himself there. Mr. Tanimoto took four or five steps and threw himself between two big rocks in the garden. He bellied up very hard against one of them. As his face was against the stone, he did not see what happened. He felt a sudden pressure, and then splinters and pieces of board and fragments of tile fell on him. He heard no roar.

    (Almost no one in Hiroshima recalls hearing any noise of the bomb. But a fisherman in his sampan on the Inland Sea near Tsuzu, the man with whom Mr. Tanimoto’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law were living, saw the flash and heard a tremendous explosion; he was nearly twenty miles from Hiroshima, but the thunder was greater than when the B-29s hit Iwakuni, only five miles away.)

    When he dared, Mr. Tanimoto raised his head and saw that the rayon man’s house had collapsed. He thought a bomb had fallen directly on it. Such clouds of dust had risen that there was a sort of twilight around. In panic, not thinking for the moment of Mr. Matsuo under the ruins, he dashed out into the street. He noticed as he ran that the concrete wall of the estate had fallen over—toward the house rather than away from it.

    In the street, the first thing he saw was a squad of soldiers who had been burrowing into the hillside opposite, making one of the thousands of dugouts in which the Japanese apparently intended to resist invasion, hill by hill, life for life; the soldiers were coming out of the hole, where they should have been safe, and blood was running from their heads, chests, and backs. They were silent and dazed.

    Under what seemed to be a local dust cloud, the day grew darker and darker.

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    White Man, Listen!, Richard Wright, 1957.

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    “[Negro life] is the same life lifted to the heights of pain and pathos, drama and tragedy. The history of the Negro in America is the history of America written in vivid and bloody terms; it is the history of Western man writ small. It is the history of men who tried to adjust themselves to a world whose laws, customs, and instruments of force were leveled against them. The Negro is America’s metaphor.”

    - White Man, Listen!, Richard Wright, 1957.

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    1. Shepherd playing flute, 1925-1946
    2. Shepherds watching their flocks with Bethlehem in distance, 1920-1933
    3. Shepherd life illustrating the Twenty Third Psalm. “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” 1900-1920

    Palestine Photo Project

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    “Never, never rest/Till slavery’s pillars/Lie splintered in dust/And slavery’s chains/Lie eaten with rust.”

    Robert E. Hayden
    “Gabriel (Hanged for Leading a Slave Revolt),” 1940

    University of Michigan Library

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    “We have heard again and again that Mrs. Reagan turned the president away from the Evil Empire and toward the meetings with Gorbachev. Later, on NBC Nightly News, the San Francisco astrologer Joan Quiglet claimed a role in influencing both Reagans on this point, explaining that she had ‘changed their Evil Empire attitude by briefing them on Gorbachev’s horoscope.’”

    - “In the Realm of the Fisher King,” Joan Didion, 1989.

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    My memories of the 1960s and the 1970s are different. I remember interminable dinners discussing politics, women and nations, long Summer vacations, foreign travel, languid sunsets, whole-night concerts, epic soccer games, girls in mini-skirts, the smell of the new apartment in which my family moved, excitement of new books and of buying my favorite weekly on the evening before the day when it would hit the stands…. I cannot find any of that in Judt, Svetlana Alexeevich or any other writer. I know that some of the memories may be influenced by nostalgia, but as hard as I try I still find them as my dominant memories. I remember many details of each of them to believe that my nostalgia somehow “fabricated” them. I just cannot say they did not happen.

    Thus I came to realize that all these other memories from Eastern Europe and Communism that pop-up on today’s screens and “populate” the literature, have almost nothing in common with me. And yet I lived under such a regime for thirty years! I know that my story may not be representative, not the least because the 1970s were the years of prosperity in Yugoslavia and because that peripheral part of Europe then played, thanks to Tito’s non-alignment, a world political role that it never had in 2,000 years—but still, after I adjust for all of that, I believe that some other, non-preordained, stories of “underdevelopment” and Communism have the right to be told too. Or should we willfully destroy our memories?

    Yet it is very difficult to tell these other stories. History is written, we are told, by the victors and stories that do not fit the pattern narrative are rejected. This is especially the case, I have come to believe, in the United States that has created during the Cold War a formidable machinery of open and concealed propaganda. That machinery cannot be easily turned off. It cannot produce narratives that do not agree with the dominant one because no one would believe them or buy such books.  There is an almost daily and active rewriting of history to which many people from Eastern Europe participate: some because they do have such memories, some because they force themselves (often successfully) to believe that they do  have such memories. Others can remain with their individual memories which, at their passing, will be lost. The victory shall  be complete.

    When I was in 2006 in Leipzig to watch a World Cup game, I was struck to see, displayed in a modest store window, a picture of the East German soccer team that in 1974, in the then World Cup played in West Germany, unexpectedly beat the West German team by 1-0. None of the players in that East German squad went to become rich and famous. They were just home boys. It was I thought a small, poignant, even in some ways pathetic, attempt to save the memories and say: “We also did something in these forty years; we existed; it was not all meaningless, “nasty and brutish”.

    “How I lost my past,” Branko Milanović.

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    Toward the end of the film, when Muller asks [Riefenstahl] to define a fascist aesthetic and she replies that she doesn’t even know what the term means, she clearly has the audience on her side. And — notwithstanding all of Susan Sontag’s alluring arguments in the essay “Fascinating Fascism,” one of the better Riefenstahl hatchet jobs — it’s easy to understand her response. 

    As Brian Winston put it on the BBC program, “I don’t think you can make a moral judgment about Riefenstahl’s work on the basis that it embodies fascist aesthetics, because I don’t think there’s any such thing. I think she stands in the mainstream of Western aesthetics, and I think that Western aesthetics can be, on occasion, fascist. That’s the problem with the whole phenomenon of fascism — that we want somehow to treat it as a virus. It isn’t; it’s part of us. It’s the dark side of the European tradition, and she represents that dark side perfectly.”

    An even greater related problem is posed less by the film itself than by contemporary confusion — all of it to the advantage of Riefenstahl’s reputation — about the proper relation of art to politics. 

    For months we’ve been reading that Riefenstahl is a great artist who has never received her due. This argument completely ignores the facts, to cite only two examples out of dozens, that her Triumph of the Will and Olympia (produced and financed by Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda) have been part of the permanent collection of New York’s Anthology Film Archives for well over a quarter of a century, a distinction not yet accorded to films by Fritz Lang, Kenji Mizoguchi, Michelangelo Antonioni, or Jean-Luc Godard, and that she was one of the first guests of honor to be saluted at the Telluride film festival.

    “Can Films Be Fascist?,” Jonathan Rosenbaum, 1994.

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    Black Beauty Miles Davis at Fillmore West, 1973
    Miles Davis

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    Posters for Vsevolod Pudovkin’s ‘revolutionary trilogy’ —

    Mother, 1926
    The End of St. Petersburg, 1927
    Storm Over Asia, 1928

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    Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
    November 2, 1699 – December 6, 1779

    You have seen objects and fruits that look as alive as people, and people’s faces, their skin, its fine down or unusual color, that have the look of fruit. Chardin goes further still, bringing together objects and people in these rooms that are more than an object, and even than a person perhaps, being the scene of their existence, the law of their affinities or contrasts, the restrained, wafted fragrance of their charm, their souls’ silent yet indiscreet confidant, the sanctuary of their past. As happens when beings and objects have lived together a long time in simplicity, in mutual need and the vague pleasure of one another’s company, everything here is amity.

    “Old Master,” Chardin and Rembrandt, Marcel Proust, 1895.

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    A set of stimuli from Gerda Smets’ tests of visual complexity. The second row from the top shows approximately a 20 percent level of complexity.

    In 1973, the psychologist Gerda Smets ran experiments using electrodes on the scalp (known as electroencephalography, or EEG) to record the level of brain activity produced by exposure to different patterns. She noted that the brain shows the largest response to patterns with about a 20 percent level of complexity.

    Newborns will stare for longer at patterns with about 20 percent complexity than they will at others. The biologist E.O. Wilson suggested that this preference might give rise to a biologically-imposed universal beauty in human art:

    It may be a coincidence (although I think not) that about the same degree of complexity is shared by a great deal of the art in friezes, grillwork, colophons, logographs, and flag designs…The same level of complexity characterizes part of what is considered attractive in primitive art and modern art and design.

    … Once Smets concluded her experiments, she asked participants which images they preferred. There she found no consensus. A larger brain response to 20 percent complexity did not predict anything about her subjects’ aesthetic preferences, which were distributed across the spectrum. When it comes to judging visual beauty, there are no hard-and-fast biological rules.

    “Why Beauty is not Universal.”

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    Ivan Bilibin
    Illustrations for Alexander Pushkin’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan, 1905

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    “The Chinese word for cadre is ‘kanpu,’ which means ‘backbone personnel.’ It has no satisfactory English equivalent, even though it is commonly translated by the French word ‘cadre.’ Since ‘cadre,’ as normally used in English, means a group of trained persons, it is not exactly suitable for referring to individual members of such a group. Yet the Chinese word is used both for the group and for the individual.”

    - Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (footnote), William Hinton, 1966.

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    “The Chinese word for cadre is ‘kanpu,’ which means ‘backbone personnel.’ It has no satisfactory English equivalent, even though it is commonly translated by the French word ‘cadre.’ Since ‘cadre,’ as normally used in English, means a group of trained persons, it is not exactly suitable for referring to individual members of such a group. Yet the Chinese word is used both for the group and for the individual.”


    Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (footnote), William Hinton, 1966. (via unhistorical)

    干部 - gànbù - Cadre

    干 - to do; to work

    部 - branch; group

    (via richang-chinese)

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