Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Does It Feel: Annie, New Order, Grief and the Dance Floor

While wishing Don't Stop would start already, "Songs Remind Me of You" got prematurely imbued with Anniemal's second coming. Something retrospectively necessary as the rest of the album was not, though when it comes to the dancefloor, the 12" means more than the LP anyways. Standalone, the single crystallized the underlying thrust of Annie's larger thread, the healing power of really good dance music. On its surface it renditions that residual flickering of a burnt out old flame, but really picks up right where Anniemal left off, with the residual flickering of a phantom.

Back in 1999 Annie broke through with a false start. After kicking around the Bergen music scene as a DJ, her penchant for melodies and a voice made for singles locked up with the talents of house producer Tore Andreas Kroknes. Madonna-sampling The Greatest Hit seemed to echo their subsequent coupling, with their made for each other revelation substituted by the song's "why'd we ever break up?/this moment probably won't last forever" abandon. The real world counterpart didn't. In 2000, Tore's degenerative heart condition kicked in with unprecedented malice and by 2001 he was dead at 23.

After that, I was so depressed I just wasn't able to do anything. I stayed at home, away from everyone, completely in my own world. I wanted to make the album with Tore — that was the plan. After he died I just didn't think I had the heart. But then I thought, 'Right, you're really depressed now but you have to make this album. Tore would be quite pissed off if you just stopped doing anything.'

"Sssh! Let's start the record!"

Kicking off with the coyest, most playful clarion call, Anniemal's intro met Animal Collective at their Wild Things Are fountainhead, yet the rumpus she was starting didn't forsake immediate gratification for Kid A knob twaddling and ruptured tribal thumps. A solid dance record straight up instead of straightforward it proved the form didn't belie the function with an emotional convalescence that denied no history.

The Greatest Hit's "you are my" now also reads "you were." No Easy Love's skeptical commitment issues are saturated with a broken engagement, but Chewing Gum's bubble yum suitor disposal doesn't insist on crying out "versions of you." First of the album's songs proper, it's Annie pep talking herself from her subconscious, chimney sweeping "settling down" into the aether, owing guilt to no one, owning up to heretofore buried fun. It's the wide, mischievous grin playfully hidden on the LP cover, ruse ready with a hole under the rug and an edge sharpened by a too soon trip around the block. At the same time it's an expression easily capable of answering Foreigner's 1984 power-ballad plea. re: Heartbeat. An autumnal reverie of what The Greatest Hit's dancefloor reunion hearkens back to, sweet moves at a dance party before the rest was history. *

But it's Come Together where the preceding activity's potential gets set in stone with a paean to the communal power of dance music. That the final track, My Best Friend, is about the aforementioned residual haunts, Tore figuring prominently, it's also uncharacteristically not made for the dancefloor. Not that off the dance floor the music's jurisdiction fades, but the rest of the album's m.o. reworked the lyric "last night a DJ saved my life" and brought it full circle so that last night the dj might have saved their own life, too, with a window into the artistic process before the record a la the tomato sauce stain in that Daft Punk video.

In total it distilled the trajectory of an unlikely but fitting historical precedent, New Order, into one knockout debut. Consider their impetus, the death of Ian Curtis. Stroszek and the Idiot might have filled out the ritual aspect of his suicide, but the denouement is at odds with the sly, wicked humor embedded in both. Joy Division's catalog on the other hand, connects the sendoff with the pantheon of death it belongs to. Outside of Disorder's liberatory potential, Curtis lived in black clouds with black linings, his baritone at the level of the focal point he viewed things from, a looming concern duly revered with depression and exacerbated in real life by the physical trauma of epilepsy. On their unanimous decision to carry on:

"The first meeting we all had, which was the Sunday night [Curtis committed suicide], we agreed that. We didn't sit there crying. We didn't cry at his funeral. It came out as anger at the start. We were absolutely devastated: not only had we lost someone we considered our friend, we'd lost the group. Our life basically."

It didn't hit me until I sat down with Substance, but the initially murky hesitance of New Order's first rumblings had turned into one of the most touching responses to suicide. Superseding The Myth of Sisyphus' narrow definition of the absurd, New Order inverted the doom and gloom of Joy Division's paradigm and created MDMA worthy dance tracks brimming with reasons to live.

New Order didn't drop the concerns Curtis previously articulated, but the increasing integration of electronic material, as well as brightened flips to atmosphere, into the song structures ended up creating what would have been the proper backbeat for Curtis' legendary epileptic pantomimes. By Brotherhood it became an ebullient forward motion, that when underscoring philosophical panic attacks like Weirdo and Broken Promise instead emphasized the freedom exhibited in confusedly scratching against the void, the boundaries of one's processing skills overshadowed by the act of processing itself. Sumner described the act of writing lyrics as haphazardly subconscious, jostling epiphanies and going "wtf" after intentionally not trying to figure out the Ian Curtis songwriting method.

In retrospect, Sumner's described the darkness that permeated Joy Division as not just a reflection of Curtis' inner turmoil in that nearly every person in the band had some kind of external issue (like many in Sumner's family dying off from physical illness) that hampered lots of the potential for pleasantry in growing up. Completely out of context and totally pretentious on my part, this quote from V. seems to echo Joy Division's mindframe from the standpoint of New Order's, looking back at those moments in youth when becoming acquainted with the world makes hopeless angst a coping mechanism.

For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories, and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world’s affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence.

"That outgoing sorrow," while not necessarily a universal trajectory, is a statement I greeted with momentarily relief when I read the book at 19 before I realized bated breath is exhausting in itself. New Order plays out like the process of the outgoing sorrow, mitigation as maturation in the face of "the spectacle."

Cue Blue Monday. The song was made as a ruse to sate fans' demand for an encore, something they could play without having to stick around to finish, but its structure is hardly tossed off. The bassline is potentially lifted from Sylvester's You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), the beat from Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's Our Love, and that synth line in the beginning from Kraftwerk. Perhaps not original, but not tossed off. I bring these up also on account of the lyrical content.

Defiantly flamboyant (drag) Queen of Disco Sylverster James' HiNRG powerhouse is stripped/slowed down and lyrically reversed, but with confusion. Donna Summer's contention that "our love will last forever" doesn't seem to pan out. Kraftwerk actually turn out to be robots. And Peter Hook is not helpful: "They're not about Ian Curtis; we wanted it to be vague. I was reading about Fats Domino. He had a song called Blue Monday and it was a Monday and we were all miserable so I thought, 'Oh that's quite apt.'" All the same, Blue Order came out in '83, and while their public image gave off bad vibes (mercilessly short sets, declined interviews, the pall of Curtis) their music was already picking up the italo disco they turned to in the wake of post-punk's newly dour stain. Blue Monday was bookended by Temptation and Confusion, and it defies its thematic content with a less dark, lively vitality, dancing the pain away in action if not in thought. In turn, the two became one long before Technique.

And so, "Songs Remind Me of You"

Blue Monday's metareferentiality as identity fortification is here reiterated by Annie. While the spite in Blue Monday is better complemented by Happy Without You*, the melody and the drum patterns recall the band's makeshift rummaging. While for Annie this music's her bread and butter, that it provides comfort was a remedial factor for both of them. True, New Order were subsumed under the subset's potential aegis only after Curtis died, whereas Annie's attempts at being in a straightforward band were over far before she met Tore, but both find the trappings of italo-disco/disco disco/house/etc. as the most inviting framework within which to work out their grief, transforming it into something of great import.

"Songs..." brings us to My Best Friend, back to the beginning. While convalescence entails recovery, phantom ailment still creeps up.

once upon a time there was a girl
met a boy that said he'd change the world
promises he only made for me
vanished into what he cannot be

The song's chorus nods to how their mutual musical affinities created an association that undercuts the innocuity of listening to something as arbitrary as the radio. Blue Monday's rhetorical question of "How does it feel" in which the other person is guilted for mistreating the narrator is here directed at the self, but the agony of the question is implicitly a burden on the (de)parted. Yet it doesn't come on like the end of the world. Its omnipresence instead fuels the desire to play it back, repeatedly, as something therapeutic, "so good" and "so clear."

it doesn't matter where I seem to be
the sound of you remains eternally
rewind it back so I can start again
and play it 'till I reach the very end

Don't Stop: Redux

I'm not sure of Annie's standing in Norway, but her presence in the States is curious. A DJ who paired up with a house producer to put out a Norwegian variation on the dance record, her primary circulation stateside was within the indie community. While indie® might not be as insular as it used to be, there's a difference between indie fame and Kylie fame, where Kylie Minogue's popularity isn't predicated on the dispatching of irony. Now that i've heard Don't Stop i'm afraid the potential for that has been somewhat jeopardized. "Songs Remind Me of You" is a singular presence. The previously stated thematic concerns and reconfigurations are still apparent, but the primary outlet for elation is for the most part no longer part of the dancefloor pantheon, but a different kind of radio pop altogether.

All of this becomes increasingly frustrating when the All Night EP and other discarded tracks are taken into account. A 5 song bonus disc attached to the special edition of Don't Stop, the songs contained there actually correspond to Anniemal in a way that that expands on it instead of recycling for diminished effect. While Don't Stop's association with Alex Kapranos more closely associates it with the 2005 indie community she got saddled with, the 5 songs (or 3 of them, at least), along with at least three others that didn't make the EP, constitute what would have been an amazing second album. Thus I offer you, the ideal version of Don't Stop:

1. Hey Annie - As an intro track and a bridge from the last album this functions perfectly, with both the thematic continuation of Come Together's communal power, grappling with post-recovery notions of reverence, cheeky come ons, and a stated commitment to something new, all weaving through a killer drumline pattern.

2. Don't Stop - The bubbling effect on the synths, the time after time cyndi lauper vocal stylings over a beat to put you in the mood for tearing it up, it's warm.

3. I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me - Yeah, the Chewing Gum redux, this is wicked, and perfect for flippant posturing on the dancefloor.

4.. I Don't Like Your Band - This song finally has an appropriate revue to appear in, as telling someone to get a sequencer and hit up Kraftwerk, Bobby O and Moroder had no place on the actual album.

5. Two of Hearts - the awesomely beefed up power hour assault of a cover, subtextual relevance obscured by surface ecstacy.

6. Ferret Summer - A breather, slight interlude with a winding hallway vibe, "sitting in an empty room, late in December" is preparatory for the glacial italo sheen of Anthonio (plus weirdo line "the touch of your ferret" layered in for intrigue).

7. Anthonio - coupled with Ferret Summer, Anthonio displays the other realms Don't Stop could have dabbled in for diversification of the Anniemal template, this could be a Sally Shapiro song.

8. Songs Remind Me of You - Hearkening back to Two of Hearts, the subtextual relevance of an arbitrary classic becomes the surface tension worked out on repeat in hook heaven here.

9. All Night - From the talkbox intro/backing pipes, to the double layered main vox, to the numero group roller jam comp backbeat, yet again Annie's potential trajectory is glimpsed. This also echoes Come Together, but with the action instead of the demand.

10. I Will Get On - For nostalgia, rarity, and dearth of tracks to choose from, the other track Annie and Tore made before he passed on. It's also a good flip side to The Greatest Hit, in that it plays like the breakup before that song's one night reunion.

This will probably make my top ten. Considering what she was working out in the chaff re-instated above, Don't Stop could have continued the conversation being had in Roisin Murphy's Overpowered and Hercules and Love Affair's debut, Antony's vocals in the latter especially, which underscored the roiling maelstrom underneath the surface of that good time luster, its inevitable fixture in life and that one method for imbueing it with tractability - the dance floor.

*Happy Without You's hypothetical disillusionment doesn't easily lend itself to her public record, and it agitates the previous paragraph's conception of the album's grieving process, At the same time, it's recovery from another kind of tragedy, the Alvy Singer-type breeder of in-their-image companions. Tore appeared in her life no earlier than 20, and the song looks back at 16, so if autobiographical it gives credence to the notion that Chewing Gum style dating isn't without merits.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On Which Side Of The Goldstone The Boldface Lies

The feigned incredulity in response to the goldstone report is embarassing. There is an acute multiple personality disorder in the backseat driver wing of the IDF that vacillates between might is right culpability and dissociatively exculpatory denial. Either they embrace military violence in all its transgressive glory with a distorted Machiavellian relish or play dumb with the ADL at their fingertips when that transgressive glory is delineated and reflected.

Framing The Goldstone Report hubbub around Operation Cast Lead, and in turn Operation Cast Lead around The Goldstone report (it's one of many, dating back to the war itself***) allows for the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to perpetuate its relegation to incidents. When an incident occurs the territorial damage extends beyond the occupied territories and seeps into Israel. Be it a suicide bombing or rockets on Sderot the discourse is maneuvered into a disrupted equilibrium as opposed to a "continuum,"as the report itself states. Considering the imbalance of power that exists in an occupation, the dominance of this analysis isn't surprising, the discourse and its lexicon are controlled by the occupying power.

For instance, Operation Cast Lead began at the end of December 2008 and ended in late January 2009 - here's where rhetorical flourish obscures a central, ignored reality in the situation. An occupation is an act of war, everything that happens under an occupation is a continuation of that war. When standard conflict breaks out between non-traditional armed factions (here, Hamas, unarmed collateral) and the Israeli army, it is not a deviation from the norm, but an escalation. Not to say that the term "escalation" and "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" are foreign to each other in all realms of media coverage, but when the escalation ends and the term "cease-fire" enters the discussion, the excursion becomes an incident that transpired and is now over, and the escalation of "what" isn't broached, it's conveniently ignored. It's a compartmentalization of transgressions and abuses whose segmentation obscures the comprehensive totality of their penetration into occupied society.

Conversely, Israeli society generally has three direct interactions with the conflict - army duty (combat/checkpoint), suicide bombings, and rocket attacks. The lag time between these incidents, and there is a lag time, allows for discontinued engagement with the reality of the situation. The relative distance from the rockets and bombings most of the population experiences allows for the actual engagement to be relative in itself. Not to trivialize the suffering caused by all this via one Chickens Come Home To Roost framing device, the arbitrary casualties and surrounding physical/mental trauma civilians suffer is awful, but also on the dime of perpetually backwards policymaking with an apparent causal relation to the conflict. So when the damage caused is objectively, individually assessed, revealing its universal implications (anyone would suffer from this), it doesn't lend legitimacy to the compliance with and support for perpetual occupational policy with its attendant escalations by the general Israeli population, it's trivialization as a rule.

The dissociation has a few precedents. Part of it is born out of habitual denial from suppressing memories of what army duty entails i.e. what abuses one is capable of both committing and justifying in the moment, the other part is born out of denial from self-congratulatory indifference to those abuses based on adulterated darwinian aphorisms and a reversal of the historical Jewish archetype's association with weakness, as formerly progressive historian Benny Morris did when he recontextualized the damage done to the Palestinians as the few broken eggs required to make an omelette, like the Indians on the way to America.

Since army duty is conscripted, four years at 18 and annual reserve duty until 45, a direct engagement with the conflict is eventual, but comes from the vantage point of a world-class military and never within Israeli territory i.e. around one's home, unless you're being symbolic. Instead, it comes into Palestinian living space from above and around as the parameters for Palestinian territory are controlled and operated by the Israeli army, which exemplifies the discrepancy between the Palestinian constant and the Israeli variable. The Palestinians live under an occupation, the Israelis do not. Where civilian life and combatant life can be separated for the average Israeli citizen, a person occupied is a precision-targeted possibility from multiple angles, and a potential abductee on a perpetual year round basis.

When Israel exchanges hundreds of political prisoners for a single digit variable of kidnapped soldiers, dead or alive, the assumption is that Israel is making a ridiculously large sacrifice. What's not considered are the grounds on which the hundreds of exchanged prisoners were arrested and detained and what their numerically large disposability reveals about Israel's Palestinian prison population. According to B'Tselem, by February 2008 there were 8,400 Palestinian prisoners (11,000 by Adalah's count) in Israeli custody. At that point over 5,100 were serving sentences, over 2,100 awaiting trial and about 790 were in administrative detention, the last of which has steadily declined since but still contains 42 holdovers from two years back, a large majority of which have been held twice with 2 of them female minors.

While this refers to present statistics, between now and 1967 at least one-fifth of the population has at some point been imprisoned, with thousands over time in administrative detention. The option of administrative detention at the IDF's disposal, while already an excuse to bypass the legal system, is repeatedly abused (and abusing in itself) as a no-holds barred, indefinitely extendable imprisonment with the option of a detainee contention but only under the condition they and their legal counsel remain unaware of what it is they are refuting about the legitimacy of their detention.

According to Israeli officials "70% of the detainees have blood on their hands." What should be delineated in that statement is whose blood they hypothetically have on their hands. The percentage of Israelis who at some point in their career delivered a severe beating or a haste execution at a checkpoint, dropped bombs or fired on civilian and combatant alike, demolished a home or a building, or shut off/explosively sabotaged electricity and sewage at the expense of dialysis, incubation, and medical/civilian sanitary needs is rarely dished out. If done, it would severely complicate the distinction between civilian and combatant used to justify Palestinian casualties, in turn giving credence to the arbitrary destinations of Palestinian rockets. Since terror is solely the province of the Palestinian combatant and defense solely the province of the Israeli soldier, a comparative nature to their damage and its political use (as terrorism is generally defined as violence wielded for political ends) would frustrate the checklist by which assassinations are carried out when revealed as viable both ways. But it is not, violence by an existing state is legitimized, violence by non-existing state is not.

Discussion of standard imprisonment does not include the daily grievances suffered at checkpoints. IDF Judge Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein in a statement to the Knesset conceded to the legitimacy of complaints about checkpoint abuse, including beatings, physical restraints and psychological humiliation. Not that it prevents the foundation for the complaints from happening, as in the recent testimony by IDF commanders entitled “A Blow is Sometimes an Integral Part of the Mission" in which various commanding officers proceeded to explain why and how they routinely abused Palestinians, with checkpoints being one of the many outlets for said abuse.

Generally averaged at 102 existing during any given month (since some of them are temporary, or "flying"), by 2008 there were 63 permanently staffed checkpoints within the west bank with another forty serving as actual crossing points into Israel. The 40 crossing points were not on the Israeli border but a few miles into the west bank, further expropriating occupied territory into de facto Palestinian disuse by the limitation of movement involved. 18 of the interior checkpoints are in Hebron and designed specifically for the Palestinians there. Staff is not limited to the IDF but includes private security companies as well. 267 miles of the road they rest on are free roaming for Israelis at the expense of Palestinians, whose movement is restricted, with 85 miles completely prohibited. This affects not just freedom of movement in or around your village, but water supply as well, forcing costly dependency on traveling tankers.

As for Gaza, the political independence withdrawal supposedly conferred on it came to an end with the election of Hamas. Leading up to the 2009 conflict was the post-election siege in which crossing points into Gaza were cut off barring medical supplies, fuel and other basic commodities. Framing reliance on tunnels with arm-buildup intentionally ignores how indulging in illegalities was required in order to gain basic living supplies. 50 percent unemployment, 79 percent below poverty levels. The fuel shortage led to power station shortage led to 15 percent elecricity shortage led to power cuts from ceased power station operations. 80 percent of water wells didn't function at full capacity, if at all, with 80 percent of the drinking water below WHO ordained drinking standards (one of a few criticisms in the Goldstone report that predates anything that happened during the conflict). Chlorine shortage kicked up "the risk of outbreak of disease." Sewage purification was sabotaged, with "50-60 million liters of raw sewage running into the sea daily." The bar on replacement/construction parts required for infrastructure repair damaged medical institutions, already running on generators, and the maintenance of medical equipment.*

For a moment consider the tunnels. Attached to their reputation is an arms smuggling ring, an international conspiracy in which Iran among others illegally supplies Hamas with weapons as opposed to the basic necessities required for living. These basic necessities, ascribed external responsibility, exist within Israeli territory and thus the onus should not be placed on anyone else for their distribution into Palestinian territory, they're already in the vicinty. Yet the criminality of the arms smuggling is only applied one way as Palestinians do not have the option of democratically electing a party with questionable legality, something Israel succeeds in doing with every election, recycling military leaders, some of whose priors, as in successful legal convictions, are entirely ignored but if analysed would fit the bill of terror. For instance Ariel Sharon's involvement in both the bombing of Qibiya and the Sabra and Shatila massacre, not to mention being more than a mere cog in the entirety of the mess in Lebanon.

In turn, Palestinians are not allowed to erect a standing army, with standard army munition. They can't erect munitions factories, build or import fighter jets, tanks or warships. My uncle is a manager at a Rafael bomb making factory in a civilian area, which covers all of those. It's not singular on any level, there are many bomb factories in civilian areas. A standing army, which trains its soldiers in methods of combat, including the operation of highly destructive weapons and bomb deploying mechanisms, has bases all over Israel's civilian areas. Any external monetary boost to Hamas is dwarfed by an annual American tradition that far outdates Hamas itself, as Israel recieves 3 billion dollars in military aid from the United States every year.
Israel's civilian embedded military buildup also includes the high-tech industry on which Israel's economy is highly reliant. The high-tech industry covers development of security technology. Security technology is only useful in lieu of conflict. The increasing complexity and thus diversification of the security technology reflects less on innovative spontaneity than a causal connection between conflict and industry. War is good for business and in turn the health of the state. Peace talks don't rise and fall on who recognizes what, linguistic hangups offer a convenient diversion from how much it will cost.

The subset discourse of Gaza itself relies on an ostensibly objective notion of cause and effect that relies on a particular series of events and their regional location. The return to Gaza was described on various occasions as the sleeping giant that is Israel being woken up by the disruptive force known as Gaza bent on sabotaging the potential for peace conferred on it by Israel's withdrawal. As documented above, Israel was not asleep from the time of withdrawal, as its machinations were still active. Two, the withdrawal's compartmentalization of the peace process represents another convenient disconnect in the discourse where in actuality Gaza is part and parcel of the occupied territories, thus actions in the West Bank correlate directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Gaza is a part of. Checkpoints and arbitrary arrests were mentioned above, now let's move onto the separation barrier and the settlers.

Again, the statement of Dov Weisglass, Sharon's chief of staff at the time, on the withdrawal of Gaza:
"The disengagement plan is the preservative of the sequence principle. It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president's formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."

Considering the amount of procedures that did not stop following the disengagement the statement is apt. At total, the barrier is going to be 436 miles long. It is currently 58.04% completed with 8% under construction. The Separation Barrier is not really a separation, though. The same way the settlers change the facts on the ground with more and more land within the west bank de facto coming under army control as a result of guarded settler presence, the barrier expropriates land as well. 8.5 percent of the West Bank now lies on the Israel side with 3.4 percent of the West Bank either "completely or partially surrounded" by the wall. 27,520 Palestinians are now on the Israeli side, requiring permits to live in their homes and a gate from which to exit their communites. 247,800 Palestinians are completely or partially surrounded by the wall. In East Jerusalem, 222,500.

Back during the withdrawal settlers cried "Germany," with DIY yellow stars, when they were being pulled out of Gaza but if they were smart they could have signed up for a relocation to the west bank. In 2005 Ariel Sharon commissioned a report from the head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department Talia Sasson. To his chagrin it revealed how millions of shekels from state budgets were being used to build illegal settlements. The methods themselves were surreptitious. A summary of the report detailed one of the prevailing methods. "One tactic was to build a mobile phone mast, sometimes a fake, on Palestinian land. Next came a guard post to protect the mast followed by a paved road and then mobile homes for the guards to live in. Shortly afterwards settlers moved in." 100 settlements were built during Sharon's time in office prior to the report. Various ministries colluded in the activity. Housing supplied 400 mobile homes, Defense approved outposts, Education put up nurseries and teachers, Energy linked them to power grids, and taxpayers paid for the roads.The settlements dismantled in Gaza numbered 16, a fraction.

Settlers recieve military protection as well as the rights of Israelis living in the Green Line, thus having an oasis of privilege within the areas they squat. One aspect is leniency in prosecuting transgressions. Whereas Palestinians can be detained without explanation with the attendant cruel and unusual punishment, settlers have gotten away with the following:

Settlers pave patrol roads and place physical obstructions on Palestinian lands adjacent to settlements, at times with the authorities’ approval, at others not. Settlers also forcibly remove Palestinians, primarily farmers, from their lands. ...cases of gunfire, threats of gunfire and killing, beatings, stone throwing, use of attack dogs, attempts to run over Palestinians, destruction of farming equipment and crops, theft of crops, killing and theft of livestock and animals used in farming, unauthorized demands to see identification cards, and theft of documents.

One explanation of Palestinian animosity towards Israelis, primarily Jews, is the institutional breeding of anti-semitism, with a brainwashed indifference to shedding of Israeli blood**. This serves two convenient misconceptions, one being the idea that if the Palestinian were to encounter an actual Israeli the potential for reconciliation would automatically engender itself, and two, that the institutionally derived nature of the imagery suggests a manufactured dissociation from reality that leaves Israel unaccountable for their violent associations. What it rests on is the idea that Palestinians rarely if ever encounter Israelis and/or Jews, which is false, as they encounter them on a regular basis. Yet, the Jews a Palestinian encounters on a day-to-day basis are either soldiers or settlers. Both are armed, violent, and can bypass UN censures with U.S. veto power but are unavoidable in the excercise of mobility.

In Hebron, where checkpoints serve to frustrate Palestinian movement primarily, Palestinians have to build nets between the second story and the first in order to not have to constantly deflect trash from the Settlers. Considering anti-semitism and the holocaust is still a vital part of the discourse it's worth mentioning Yad Vashem chairman Yosef Lapid's statement about the settlers:

It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation, spitting and scorn...I was afraid to go to school, because of the little anti-Semites who used to lay in ambush on the way and beat us up. How is that different from a Palestinian child in Hebron?...It is inconceivable for the memory of Auschwitz to warrant ignoring the fact that there are Jews among us who behave today towards Palestinians just like German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved towards Jews.

Israel prides itself on being a a parliamentary democracy, the only one in the middle east (if we ignore Lebanon), but the democratic governance, with citizen participation, only applies to activity within Israel's borders. For Palestinians it's a military dictatorship and when war rains down from the IDF the direction isn't exclusively horizontal, but vertical as well, which is not the case for Israelis.. So, looking at information that came out before the goldstone report, even immediately after Operation Cast Lead, when 3 Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers die during the operation from either imprecise rocket attacks or combat, in turn placing heavy importance on the effects of rocket attacks and warfare, requiring the report to be more fair and balanced is a further trivialization of the universal implications of the effects of rocket attacks and warfare.

Approximately (give or take) 1,300 Palestinians died. 4,000 buildings were destroyed while 20,000 were "severely damaged." Take this into account when Col. Kemp talks about leaflets being distributed as if bombing targets had anywhere to run. While "tens of thousands of Gazans were left homeless," the thousands of Israeli families that were momentarily displaced were able to hide in other parts of the country before coming back to the reparable damage to "several civilian homes and structures." While hamas rockets and mortars were fairly rudimentary/retrograde weapons (obviously able to cause some damage when fired with zero precision targeting technology), Israeli weapons were drawn from a state of the art, next generation arsenal with the technology for high-grade optic resolution allowing operators to "see the targets in detail," compounded by pin-point precision and astounding accuracy, along with the usual cluster bombs and white phosphorous.

Israel's ability to deploy these weapons in "closed" and "open" areas comes directly from their occupational power and is a privilege afforded them by the imbalance of power. Hamas cannot destroy 4,000 buildings and severely damage 20,000 others, nor can it send sewage flowing into the streets and shut off electricity (something Israel did both before, during and after the war). It can barely leave the territory it exists in. What it was able to accomplish was miniscule, it deployed less rockets than Palestinians were killed, destroyed about as many structures as Israelis were killed. If the Israeli side of the damage, including the 4 severe, 11 moderate and 167 light injuries, are worthy of being labeled as war crimes on the part of Hamas, as the singular rebuttal to Goldstone indicates, then the sentence must turn back ten-fold on Israel.

But again, war crimes in this sense would limit the retributive legislation to one war, and since an occupation is an act of war this war started long ago and is not yet over. To prevent the next escalation, even in the delusional self-justification of the sleeping giant metaphor, the occupation must end. The efficacy in the current preventive measures are somewhat irrelevant as you don't figure out how to make an occupation work, it's illegal. India, Vietnam, Algiers, Afghanistan (with precedents, contemporaries and modern successors, all of them) were not failures because they didn't achieve an objective, they were failures because they were wrong to begin with and this is no exception.

Mirah, would you please...

*B'Tselem 2008 Annual Report

**While a fairly superficial analysis, contextually, of the Hezbollah wing of the martyr factory, it still has valid points. So I can be clear on this - while utilizing children, or anyone, for suicide bombing missions/planning for them at all are forms of bureaucratized cowardice, with the outsourcing of sacrifice/actual engagement a viable task in the organization, the concern is what well that desire for conscription is drawn from, it's not manufactured in the abstract, or inherent, it's correspondent to an immediate reality. It's existence under the settler/soldier dichotomy of Jewish presence does not help. On the other end, this primarily relates to age, as children in Israel are raised in preparation for the army, in which they will learn to shoot, kill, and possibly sacrifice themselves for their country, setting aside college in order to do so. On another note, this is kind of hilarious for Spike Jonze's reaction of "what is the hezbollah?...I wouldn't even know how to begin processing this!" which might illuminate some of the quandaries and the prescribed method for dealing with them in Where The Wild Things Are.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

On Vilde Chaya

Mr. SENDAK:...A lot of people were angry at my books because they put children in jeopardy, just what you're talking about. And the idea of an American children's book where the child is not perfectly safe was something that was new.

I didn't know it was new. I didn't set out to break any new ideas. I was just doing what was only in my head, which was of course mostly autobiographical because childhood was a terrible situation.

INSKEEP: Why was childhood a terrible situation for you in Brooklyn?

Mr. SENDAK: Well, Brooklyn, by the time my brain began to function, we were in the war. And we were Jews. And all of my father's family had been exterminated and much of my mother's family had been exterminated. So from very early on I knew of mortality.

The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is coming out to a rumbling identical to that which greeted the initial book upon release half a century ago. Mainly, it doesn't speak to a childhood story/story about childhood we can fondly remember/immediately embrace. In actuality, it was a story we grew fond of and are now facing a new set of complications with. There's a nagging notion that a definitive statement on childhood is missing from the proceedings.

While the film might, on the surface, not be a definitive statement on childhood, to ascribe it such value would one, negate its still valid entry into the catalogue, and two, judge it on the merits of its introductory sequence as opposed to the increasingly complicated events that follow. While it initially situates itself within the burgeoning alienation of Max's adolescence from the vantage-less point of Max himself, the environmental factors Max bounces off of thereafter are not bottom-up. But to criticize the movie for its lack of immediate communicability with the younger set as a result of adulteration by the adults who made it negates the potentiality of diluted nostalgia, and lack of communicable relation with one's past self except within the framework of what you now know.

And so, the introductory sequence i.e. Max's real life, bookends the film and said bookends are of a particular kind of childhood sadness. Max comes from a white, middle-class home within which everyone suffers the same alienation but at the expense of their kin. His father is absent, the only trace being an inscription on a globe telling Max "this world belongs to you." His mother, wit's end with her job but with no shortage of love for her kids, seeks solace in a potential suitor. His sister defies familial connection and seeks solace within her friends. Max himself grows more introverted with every failed interaction, measured by how much it caters to his attention, with what gradation of pain (as with a snowball fight turned sour).

Talk of the sun's hypothetical demise in science class are filtered through doom and gloom mythos, internalized by max as a looming concern, or perhaps as an explanation, with the sun as one of a few coming references to patriarchal abdication's effect on the offspring. His attempts to scratch the glacial separation are passive agressive, veering from lovingly indulged storytelling to void-weary outbursts that when seen replicated in his mother's response causes the shock of recognition and sends him running.

Back to the nature of definitive. "Definitive" would suggest such a thing exists ignoring how a more class/race conscious composite would negate this one's reality, and two, its inconsistencies aren't the relation between the film's suggested initial reality and the variegated experiences of children from all kinds of backgrounds, but between the film's suggested initial reality and what transpires during the subsequent escape from it, which itself, if considered, offers the missing link.

While Max's origin story in the film feels tamed and bridled by industry concerns of marketability, with the broadest target audience being Max's class background counterparts whose parents, assumed, would be the most likely contributors to ticket sales, along with the niche indie market the trailer's use of the arcade fire seemed to be tailored for (calling to mind that New Yorker piece they got cornered in), the only reason that might be an issue is because of the embellishment a film adaptation of a ten-sentence book requires. The origin story before script revisions was still what it ends up being in the film, the only changes were to Max's portrayal, previously less sympathetic and heavy on brattitude. While Max in the story IS an angry white kid, the fleshing out of the reason for his behavior seems relegated to something with the least visceral potential.

Not to trivialize the absence of his father, something wholly devastating in itself, but the ensuing violence of the wild things seems to be working out subtextual trauma derived entirely from another kind of upbringing, one which makes more sense in the context of Sendak's quote above, as well as from one of Jonze's stated reference points, Lynn Ramsey's Ratcatcher. A Gummo critics could get behind as it overtly concerns the politcs of poverty, Ratcatcher showed a dustmen's strike exacerbating the filth and degradation of Glasgow's working class and the way that affects an adolescent's reaction to a drowning/his surroundings. For reasons I'll get to in a moment, I kind of feel Julien Donkey-Boy would serve as an even better reference point. Or John Darnielle's The Sunset Tree, or this Tyson interview with Oprah.

So while a quiet, reflective suffering paints the opening scenes, with intimations of the hazards of play (as in Max's stunned tears from out of a crushed igloo) that perhaps offer a connection to the causal mishaps in the land of the Wild Things, it is nowhere near preparatory for what follows. Once we get there the onslaught of growing up's discomforting complications have more parallels to the communal disintegration and reconfigurative processing techniques of the Together collective than to Max's own life. In fact, the socio-political implications of what ensues came off as almost uncomfortably exploratory of abrasion's symbiotic relationship with comfort.

The oratory skills of the Wild Things take on the half-lucid id first ruminations of dreamworld avatars, with the shambling confessional mistakes of inebriation. Their hang-ups control their diction, with their fears punctuating the brash but inquisitive defiance of their statements. Things turn on dream logic, too, as Max's arrival disrupts the jaded and disgruntled demolition binge of Carol, sending Max into the jaws of death when Carol's approval of his participation clashes with the others' death penalty castigations of wanton destruction. For Carol there's something going on under the surface, being that they've all got something going on underneath this tyke's carefree indulgence is a cruel joke.

As for the wild things' hangups: Alexander barely speaks up, mainly to spell out his exclusion in audibly self-loathing tone, perking up only at the site of KW. KW is a loner, with a glum but resigned acceptance of futility, uncharacterisitically indulging the magical promise of Max's arrival while averting Carol's passive-aggressive, history-laden displays of romantic interest. Carol is unstably optimistic, with the possibility of being failed and failing himself constantly lining any pleasant disposition with looming rage. Douglas is Carol's wingman, there to pick Carol up in lieu of encroaching breakdowns. Judith questions the legitimacy of everything with knee-jerk disillusionment hyperaware of her percieved intrusion but always game to partake in failed projects. Ira is actually kind of stoned-happy and easygoing.

Judith and Ira are the only ones who maintain an overt kind of linkage with the wild things' inspiration, Sendak's Jewish immigrant family. Not a positive one, really, as Ira has a big nose and Judith has horns with an ADL style victim-complex and nasal whine but their presence lends the proceedings a tangential connection to Sendak's succeeding works' relation to the holocaust and the destruction it wrought on his extended family in Europe.

LUDDEN: What do you think has drawn you to children's literature? Why there?

Mr. SENDAK: I don't know. I think my own childhood. If I had a unhappy life, and most of us do, actually, and if you have an immigrant life and if you come to this country--I was born here--but then you grow up and everybody in your family who's not here is dead in a concentration camp, and all you hear is your father or mother weeping and tearing hair out, and knowing that pleasure was a sin. Playing ball in the street or laughing was a sin because they can't play ball and they can't laugh. How dare you have pleasure in life when they can't have anything? So I hated them. For a long time, I hated them, and my childhood was completely misshapen by what was going on in the world.

So I had my brother and my sister and my father telling us horrendous stories. He didn't know what was appropriate. He just knew how to tell a story, and it was great, which maybe gave me insomnia, maybe not. But they were really terrifying of shtetl life in Europe and his experiences and stories where--and there were children dying. `I remember Eli and oh, he died in such a terrible way.' `Papa, tell us. Tell us how Eli died,' you know, like that was the best thing we could possibly hear. And then he wouldn't spare us the details. He'd tell us the whole horrible details of Eli's death, and they stayed with me for the rest of my life.

The wild things' horseplay with each other transitions from roughhousing to disturbing in ways that sometimes echo what Liliana Cavani was aiming for in the Night Porter, others the various responses to domestic abuse. Their bipolar vacillation between angry despondence and joyous revelry is both psychological and physical, going at each other like permanently damaged creatures who've come to accept the violent imperfections of their behaviors as both liberatory in the infliction of pain and defensible in the context of displaced anger.

Carol's violent outbursts are shrugged off in "he means well" phraseology. When dirt clod warfare breaks out, KW's facestomping of Carol causes him to take it personally, resorting to the arms of Douglas who he claims would only do such a thing as an accident. To remedy the situation KW asks him to step on her face, he doesn't satisfy the request. When Max takes on the role of face-stepper, she thanks him, relieved. Each one's outward displays of hostility are masks for their insecurities, (SPOILER, kinda) best exemplifed by KW's turning to the mysterious Bob and Terry and willfully interpreting their responses as everything she needed to hear (an action echoed by the wild things later on (SPOILER END)).

When John Darnielle was interviewed by Nerve about the difficulty of The Sunset Tree's autobiographical content, in which a younger Darnielle tries to grow into a functional adult in spite of his abusive stepfather, an unexpected geniality flowed through his response. "I don't want people to feel bad for me because I'm fine, and I don't think of my stepfather as this monstrous figure. A lot of the reviews describe him as drunken, which really annoys me because he didn't drink, really." When that ruffled the standard notion of confessional discourse, he deconstructed Oprah:

The thing about those people on Oprah is, I wouldn't blame them. It's the way you have to frame stuff for an audience as broad as a daytime-TV audience. You really have to spell the story out in the simplest, most black-and-white terms possible. There's no room for nuance in best-selling self-help books. I mean, yes, the abuser is wrong to abuse and yes, the abusee deserves better than to be abused, but after that the dynamics get real sticky. If you are in that dynamic you learn to sort of play the role. I think art would be the better place to investigate these sorts of things. You don't work out problems in your marriage on TV; you do them in the house in really complicated ways.

Darnielle's stepfather had passed on years before he thought of making the album, sparking off a powder keg. For his mother and sister, his stepfather's behavior had passed on, too. The album's last track, though, is an uncharacteristically fond memory , and further complicating things Darnielle leaves something else for him, too: "My stepfather was a passionate, political man. He talked a good game about not lying about the world as you see it. To do honor to that part of him that made me who I am, I felt like I needed to tell the truth." The political machinations alluded to in the Wild Things are also a lot more complicated than expected.

Almost immediately, there's a voluntary vassalage to Max's ascension to the throne, brought on by the Wild Things' percieved need for guidance, for the comfort of hierarchy and being told what to do. It's a desperate response to an emotional rut with grave consequences if the last-ditch effort becomes just another another slap in the face. Initially, it's almost Hobbesian, born in fear, with a "war of every man against every man", liberty sacrificed on behalf of something finally putting an end to it all.
Max's crown is pulled from an unidentified skeleton, one Carol shrugs off as something that was there before they were, before taking Max around the island and repeating the inscription of his father.

The top-down age-ist mechanization the creators are accused of finds defensible character here in that the dissolution of power and utopian vision aren't played off as a world-weary, hopeless dead end but instead a complication of prescriptive naivete in taking on the world's ills, whose resonance here is seen to be derived as much from internal expurgation as external observation, the world is as fucked up as we are. In doing so, the effect isn't to render attempts at remediating, both interpersonally and globally, as null and useless but perhaps perpetually flawed in a way that requires practical application of sympathetic oversight.

That the realization comes from an illusory throne is loaded, obviously. Though his father's absence is never explained, you may gather the hazards of being one are accounted for in Max's travails, but his throne's dissolving importance seems to reflect on the power conferred to the vacated role and the reclamatory ability realizing the overcompensation in doing so entails. Yet when I watched the film the resonance of what transpired with the Wild Things wasn't informed by the introductory sequence, but my mother's experiences, something which recieved an unexpected reaction when we dialogued after the movie's end.

Now my mom, like Sendak, grew up with the Shoah generation. While Sendak was around as a tyke for it it's implications for both of them were gained from the post-traumatic behavior of their parents. When my mom was max's age she was in Israel, and between the Six Days and the Yom Kippur Wars. As she describes it there was a whole generation of kids under parents with double baggage. Either tattooed or refuged, they came out of one catastrophe into another in the role of perpetual war veterans, with the attendant shock. Her dad, and a bunch of others, had PTSD and those kids got caught in the crosshairs of PTSD's blind rage.

For a while there was a disconnect. Growing up and still now my granddad on my mom's side was a comforting example of gentle care. His deliberate movements mirrored the passing of time, not only in the way his methodical thoroughness with every action corresponded to the ticking of the clock but in the way it seemed to accept the futility of rushing, perhaps in light of "where to?" But the trajectory of how he got there over time eventually filled out in less than comforting ways.

Yet, there's never been any animosity in our family trips to Israel, unless it was extra familial and aimed at the news. My mom, seemingly, had internalized the damage, simultaneously acknowleding both his and my grandmother's failure to properly introduce her to the world and that it was their introduction nonetheless, citing mitigating circumstances. With the potential for harm subsided, their presence was innoculable and the endearing parents they could have been, and were from time to time on the family outings she marks as the good times, are instead there now, enabling a familal relationship for her and the rest of us.

When I mentioned the lack of connection between the introductory characterization and subsequent abrasive quality of the wild things and how the initial depiciton of alienation failed to account for the conflicted relationship with violence and love that ensued, my mom countered with the gradations of depression as measured by personal experience. Foregoing comparative trauma, she focused instead on the devastation wrought by incommunicable despondence in direct relation to one's surroundings and the destructive potentiality in any of its unremediated forms. Basically, the capacity for depression and violence isn't solely rooted in environmental factors, and comparing backgrounds ignores what most immediately informs it. All of a sudden it sounded like I had it in for the kid and wanted him to experience my mother's traumas, disregarding the intermitting melancholy I can fall prey to without the assistance of CPS violations.

Yet all my assessments of the Wild Things interactions were second hand. I wouldn't want Eggers and Jonze to have explored that with anything other than genuine interest, and I wouldn't want a harsher reality displayed at the expense of the audience whose recognition of it on personal grounds would result in anguish. As it exists the opening sequence offers a comparative experience with the ensuing activity offering subtextual relation without being overt, but the latter part's engendering of that discourse suggests the discrepancy is worth addressing. It still begs the question, "what kind of wild thing exists in all of us?"