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the work of history
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    Renato Guttuso
    Santa Panagia (Sicily), 1956

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    There is something very strange about experiencing ‘The Merchant of Venice’ when you are somehow imaginatively implicated in the character and actions of its villain… What, exactly, are you applauding and smiling at? How are you supposed to view the Jewish daughter who robs her father and bestows the money on her fortune-hunting Christian suitor? Do you join in the raucous laughter of the Christians who mock and spit on the Jew? Or do you secretly condone Shylock’s vindictive, malignant rage?

    Where are you, at the end of the harrowing scene in the courtroom, when Portia asks the man she has outmanueuvered and ruined whether he agrees to the terms she has dictated, terms that include the provision that he immediately become a Christian? 'Art thou content, Jew?’ she prods. 'What dost thou say?’

    And what do you think the Jew actually feels when he answers, 'I am content’?

    - “If You Prick Us,” Stephen Greenblatt.

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    Tina Modotti
    Workers Parade, 1926


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    If one horror film hits, everyone says, “Let’s go make a horror film!” It’s the genre that never dies.

    George A. Romero (February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017

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    Designing a billboard is a different task than designing an ad for a magazine; it’s got a very different set of requirements. It has to read really fast, because it’s aimed at people driving by. I think they’ve got about six seconds to digest an image and get the message. To make them stand out, the designers would also add sculptural elements. 

    There was an Eric Clapton billboard for “Backless” where he was sitting alone in a room and there was a three-dimensional lampshade on the billboard that lit up at night. Alice Cooper had billboards with light-up eyes that changed from day to night…

    I think the thing that set the rock-’n’-roll billboards apart from other billboards at the time, and probably ever since, is that it really wasn’t about making a sale. It wasn’t about getting somebody to a cash register to buy something. It was about creating an image, and about a trust between the artist and the record companies… One great billboard for a recording of the “Tommy” album—not by the Who but by the London Symphony—had these two giant chrome pinball eyes photo-realistically painted on it. If you were driving down the street, you’d practically hit the brakes when you saw it. You might have no idea what this was about, it didn’t say “Tommy” or anything on it. They had this leeway to treat these billboards as art pieces, bridging that gap between fine art, commercial art, and the urban landscape.

    When Rock ‘n’ Roll Loomed Large Over the Sunset Strip

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    “Confronted with a range of negative hostility of this sort, knowing that the society of the Western world is so frantically defensive that it should seek to impose conformity at any price, what is an honest man to do? Should he keep silent and thereby try to win a degree of dubious safety for himself? Should he endorse a static defensiveness as the price for achieving his own personal security?

    The game isn’t worth the candle, for, in doing so, he buttresses that which would eventually crush not only him, but that which would negate the very conditions of life out of which freedom can spring.

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

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  • 07/28/17--15:38: Right On! magazine, 1982

  • Right On! magazine, 1982

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    It came to pass, salt of the earth, grapes of wrath, how are the mighty fallen, know for a certainty, root of the matter, thorn in the flesh, at death’s door, the way of all flesh, a law unto himself, scum of the earth, the haves and have-nots, bite the dust, my brother’s keeper, the skin of one’s teeth, as old as the hills, casting pearls before swine, at their wit’s end, the powers that be, eat, drink and be merry, and so on. All resonant phrases living on in the English-speaking world. But let us not forget that this prose for all seasons was laid down, built and assembled from common and colloquial speech; prepared for the public from vulgate raw material.

    The King James Bible (KJB), ‘probably the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world’ (HL Menken), was actually a confederation of 66 books that introduced no more than 43 new words to the English language and were written using a lexicon of about 12,000 words only. Shakespeare, on the other hand, wallowed in 30,000 different words, many of them overbearingly polysyllabic, with many turgid imports from Latin.

    The KJB was written in the clear vernacular of the people ‘so that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar’. But it had to sound stately and majestic… It was also written as prose that was meant to be heard, to be read out aloud. The grammar had to be uncluttered; the cadences had to be rich and compelling.

    The editorial process had to be, therefore, an auditory exercise. Each draft was finally submitted to a Committee of Revisers, which heard it over and over in all its sonorousness and cast it differently if it was found wanting in stateliness and rhythm. For some time now, a surfeit of academic material is being spawned to ascertain the qualitative and quantitative influence of KJB on the collective imagination of all Anglophones.

    There was a time when most Englishmen and Americans could quote directly from it. One can find the marks and smudges of the KJB everywhere: in the rhetoric of Lincoln and Martin Luther King and Roosevelt and Churchill and Obama, in all major works of literature from Melville and Faulkner through Steinbeck and Saul Bellow to Vikram Seth and Joanne Rowling, in the lyrics of Sinatra and Marley, in journalism and jurisprudence and advertising, in Monty Python and cricket commentary and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. In Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’, in Ambedkar’s declamations. In Tagore’s elevated, half-poetic register, in the dense mysticism of Aurobindo Ghosh. In the treatises of Amartya Sen. In prime-time television sophistry. And everything in between.

    - “Tongue in Check.”

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    But why? Why Guernica? How does the picture answer to our culture’s need for a new epitome of death – and life in the face of it? … Guernica might have proved a failure, or a worthy but soon forgotten success. It was made by an artist who was well aware, the record shows, that in taking on the commission he was straying into territory – the public, the political, the large-scale, the heroic and compassionate – that very little in his previous work seemed to have prepared him for.

    When Josep Lluís Sert and other delegates of the Spanish Republic came in early 1937 to ask Picasso to do the mural, he told them he wasn’t certain that he could produce a picture of the kind they wanted. And he was right to have doubts. Was there anything in his previous art on which he could draw in order to speak publicly, grandly, to a scene of civil war? It is true that since the mid-1920s his painting had centred on fear and horror as recurrent facts of life. Violence, once he had tackled it head on in the Three Dancers of 1925, became a preoccupation. So did monstrosity, vengefulness, pitiful or resplendent deformity – life in extremis.

    But none of these things need have added up to, or even moved in the direction of, a tragic attitude. Treating them did not necessarily prepare an artist to confront the Tragic Scene: the moment in human existence, that is, when death and vulnerability are recognised as such by an individual or a group, but late; and the plunge into undefended mortality that follows excites not just horror in those who look on, but pity and terror.

    - “Picasso and Tragedy,” T.J. Clark.

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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.