Saturday, May 11, 2024

In A Time Of Genocide, The Masks Fall Off

The current genocide has exposed many priorities of our Western governments, but has also revealed a truth about our intellectual and social conflicts: people seem less interested in principles than in group loyalties -- in short, instead of arguments, we have knee-jerk tribalism.

A key revelation, here, has been the brutal attack on students who protest not only against genocide, but for freedom of speech and conscience. The right-wing groups who railed against woke censorship and cancellation in universities are now celebrating corporate censorship and governmental cancellation. Instead of applauding students for going beyond mere virtue-signalling against abstract enemies like "racism" or "the patriarchy," these pundits and politicians attack the students who have chosen, instead, to confront real enemies with real power to hit back: corporations, corporate-funded institutions, and authoritarian governments.

We need to look at what is actually happening. I reject hollow and safe displays of woke purity, but what students are engaged in, right now, is rebellion with genuine stakes. When cops invade universities to crack skulls, protest is no longer theatre, it is politics; when protest involves fundamental issues like genocide and the freedom to shout, "No," it goes far beyond mere divisions between "us" or "them."

This fight matters not only to students, but to anyone who rejects mass murder and the mass cancellation of dissent. Right or left, rich or poor, we all stand to lose this fight if we draw back into worn-out but comfortable cocoons of political tribalism.

To hell with "us" or "them." We need the solidarity of principles.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

I Will Not

I WILL NOT,
by Mark Fuller Dillon.
Thursday, May 02, 2024.

You want me to march for fascism, but I will not.

You want me to kill for zionism, but I will not.

You want me to worship neoliberalism and the dictates of the market, but I will not.

You want me to spy on my neighbours, to denounce them for crimes of thought and speech, but I will not.

You want me to abandon solidarity with people I have never met, never known, but I will not.

You want me to lock human beings into smaller and smaller cages of identity, but I will not.

You want me to deny the biological reality of two sexes, but I will not.

You want me to erase the biological existence of women, but I will not.

You want me to deprive women of women-only spaces, but I will not.

You want me to denounce men for normal, non-violent, non-abusive sexual desires, but I will not.

You want me to believe that men must behave like this, that women must behave like that, and that human sex roles are not social constructs, but I will not.

You want me to reify sexual stereotypes through chemical castration, through female genital mutilation, but I will not.

You want me to declare that the colour of my skin reveals more about me than my character, my ethics, my hopes and aspirations, but I will not.

You want me to set the mechanical mindlessness of algorithms above human skill, above human imagination, but I will not.

You want me to hate your economic rivals in other countries as if they were existential threats, but I will not.

You want me to pretend that I am not an animal, immersed in, and dependent on, the natural world, and you want me to poison, to deplete that world for your profits and your power, but I will not.

You want me to forget the past, but I will not.

You want me to cancel the future, but I will not.

You want me to abandon nuanced thinking, calm debate, the open discussion of ideas, but I will not.

You want me to denounce, to shun, to cancel people of good will who disagree with me, who live by different values than mine, who see the world in different ways than I do, but I will not.

You want me to curse my cultural heritage, which I perceive clearly in its limitations and strengths, its cruelties and goodness, its negative and positive implications, as a past of unmitigated evil, but I will not.

You want me to remain silent while you lie, cheat, rob, and kill, but I will not.

You want me to obey you.

I will not.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Six Elizabethan Poems

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From
FIVE COURTIER POETS OF THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE, edited by Robert M. Bender.
Washington Square Press, Inc, New York, 1967.

=======================

FROM "CAELICA,"
by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke.

When all this All doth pass from age to age,
And revolution in a circle turn,
Then heavenly justice doth appear like rage,
The caves do roar, the very seas do burn,
Glory grows dark, the sun becomes a night,
And makes this great world feel a greater might.

When love doth change his seat from heart to heart,
And worth about the wheel of fortune goes,
Grace is diseased, desert seems overthwart,
Vows are forlorn, and truth doth credit lose,
Chance then gives law, desire must be wise,
And look more ways than one or lose her eyes.

My age of joy is past, of woe begun,
Absence my presence is, strangeness my grace,
With them that walk against me is my sun;
The wheel is turned, I hold the lowest place,
What can be good to me since my love is,
To do me harm, content to do amiss?

=======================

From
BOOK OF ELIZABETHAN VERSE, edited by Edward Lucie-Smith.
Penguin Books, 1965.

=======================

LET OTHERS SING OF KNIGHTS AND PALADINS,
by Samuel Daniel.

Let others sing of knights and paladins
In ag├Ęd accents and untimely words;
Paint shadows in imaginary lines,
Which well the reach of their high wits records:
But I must sing of thee, and those fair eyes.
Authentic shall my verse in time to come;
When yet th' unborn shall say, 'Lo where she lies,
Whose beauty made him speak that else was dumb.'
These are the arks, the trophies I erect,
That fortify thy name against old age;
And these thy sacred virtues must protect
Against the dark, and time's consuming rage.
Though th' error of my youth in them appear,
Suffice they show I lived and loved thee dear.

[Delia, 1592]

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WERE I A KING,
by Edward de Vere.

Were I a king, I could command content;
Were I obscure, hidden should be my cares;
Or were I dead, no cares should me torment,
Nor hopes, nor hates, nor loves, nor griefs, nor fears.
A doubtful choice, of these three which to crave;
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.

[Chetham MS. 8012]

=======================

ELEGY FOR HIMSELF,
WRITTEN IN THE TOWER BEFORE HIS EXECUTION, 1586,
by Chidiock Tichborne.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares;
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain;
My crop of corn is but a field of tares;
And all my good is but vain hope of gain:
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told;
My fruit is fall'n, and yet my leaves are green;
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old;
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen:
My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my womb;
I looked for life, and saw it was a shade;
I trod the earth, and knew it was my tomb;
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

[Verses of Praise and Joy, 1586]

=======================

A BLAST OF WIND, A MOMENTARY BREATH,
by Barnabe Barnes.

A blast of wind, a momentary breath,
A watery bubble symbolised with air,
A sun-blown rose, but for a season fair,
A ghostly glance, a skeleton of death;
A morning dew, pearling the grass beneath,
Whose moisture sun's appearance doth impair;
A lightning glimpse, a muse of thought and care,
A planet's shot, a shade which followeth,
A voice which vanisheth so soon as heard,
The thriftless heir of time, a rolling wave,
A show, no more in action than regard,
A mass of dust, world's momentary slave,
Is man, in state of our old Adam made,
Soon born to die, soon flourishing to fade.

[Spiritual Sonnets, 1595]

=======================

THULE, THE PERIOD OF COSMOGRAPHY,
by Anonymous.

Thule, the period of cosmography,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphureous fire
Doth melt the frozen clime and thaw the sky;
Trinacrian Etna's flames ascend not higher;
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose heart with fear doth freeze, with love doth fry.

The Andalusian merchant, that returns
Laden with cochineal and china dishes,
Reports in Spain how strangely Fogo burns
Amidst an ocean full of flying fishes:
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose heart with fear doth freeze, with love doth fry.

[Set to music by Thomas Weelkes, 1600]

=======================

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Brian Aldiss and Joanna Russ: Two Views of STAR TREK

Click for a better jpeg.

Brian Aldiss:

"The media have a great grip in the States, and so you get hogwash like STAR TREK, with its bright -- well, it's not very bright, actually -- this tinsel view of the future, and the galaxy, which has to be optimistic. I did once manage to see an episode all the way through, and at the end Captain Kirk says to the -- the chap with the ears -- 'Well, this proves that the galaxy's too small for white men and green men to fight one another,' and Spock nods and says, 'That's right,' and they clap each other on the shoulder, and up comes the music. Well, what Spock should have said was, 'Why the fuck shouldn't white men and green men fight together? Of course there's plenty of room.' Liberal platitudes do distress me. And yet I remember having this argument with some quite high-powered chaps, and they said, "That's a very subversive point of view, you may think these are platitudes, but they actually do a lot of good.' But I still think that science fiction should be subversive, it shouldn't be in the game of consolations, it should shake people up, I suppose because that's what it did to me when I started reading it, and that was valuable. It should question things."

[From DREAM MAKERS: SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITERS AT WORK. New and Revised Profiles by Charles Platt. Ungar, New York, 1987.]

Joanna Russ:

"STAR TREK addresses itself to... desires, ones often explicitly stated in the series itself. They are: worthwhile goals, a clear conscience, peers whom one can respect, love, and be loyal to, a chance to exercise one's skills, self-respect, a code of conduct which can be followed without disaster -- and excitement and self-importance. All these good things are to be gained by self-control and adherence to a morality which, although fairly simple, still transcends the official code handed down by Starship Command. I believe that the issue of ego control is central to the series; time and again the crew's fragile but valuable system of command and self-command is undermined by something coming from outside the ship, only to be re-established by somebody's heroic personal efforts (often Captain Kirk's) just before the drama ends.... The moments fans cite with greatest pleasure are not special effects, but rather moments of character-revelation, especially moments of deep emotion between the characters. The series was mildly liberal, mildly feminist (within narrower limits than Gene Roddenberry wished, if one can trust the pilot film...), internationalist, with at least some non-white characters (e.g. Uhura and Sulu), and it presented its characters as adults with explicitly limited powers, not fourteen-year-olds presented as rulers of the universe.

"STAR TREK is a very muddled and partial utopia. Yet it is utopian and I believe that if anything lifts the show out of the class of purely addictive culture, it is the series' utopian longing and the consequent sense of profound tragedy that hovers just under the surface of that longing....

"In STAR TREK the need is for community and morality; the means offered to achieve these ends are self-control and adherence to a fairly simple established morality. Anybody looking at the real world can tell that these means do not work (I have heard the show called 'Civics 101'). Viewers know it; otherwise they would not have to keep watching the same inadequate solution played out again and again."

[From SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, Volume 5, Number 16, 1978.]

Although I can understand and share the perspective of Brian Aldiss, I find myself, at middle-age, marooned in a world increasingly illiberal, authoritarian, anti-intellectual, anti-empathic, and poised on the edge of global suicide. This makes me lean towards the views of Russ.

The STAR TREK universe was never believable. Given the barrier of interstellar distances, the limitations of light-speed and energy, starships are unlikely in whatever future we might have; given, as well, the capacity of a technological species for self-destruction, the concept of a galaxy full of civilizations ready for contact also becomes a dream of wish-fulfillment.

Yet I refuse to toss away the utopian impulse. Despite all of the odds against humanity, despite all of our failings, I feel that we need a mythology of hope in the future, if only to give us a bearable existence in the present. If we believe in tomorrow, then life can become more focused today; if we believe that human beings can grow and learn, then we might be compelled, as individuals, to grow and learn as far as we can. Even during a time of selfishness and self-destruction, of stifling ideological purity and corporate atomization, of genocide and Western cheerleaders for genocide, stories of compassion and striving can prompt us to live as if compassion and striving could save us all.

Such things are more than "liberal platitudes," they are impossible goals that we strive to make possible, because in striving, we live as fully as we can.

Trapped within a dying civilization in a threatened biosphere, I still have to agree with Oscar Wilde:

"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias."

[From "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," 1891.]

Friday, April 5, 2024

Four Poems by Sara Teasdale

From FLAME AND SHADOW, by Sara Teasdale.
The Macmillan Company, New York, 1920.

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THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS (War Time),
by Sara Teasdale.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

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DRIFTWOOD,
by Sara Teasdale.

My forefathers gave me
My spirit's shaken flame,
The shape of hands, the beat of heart,
The letters of my name.

But it was my lovers,
And not my sleeping sires,
Who gave the flame its changeful
And iridescent fires;

As the driftwood burning
Learned its jewelled blaze
From the sea's blue splendor
Of colored nights and days.

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AUGUST MOONRISE,
by Sara Teasdale.

The sun was gone, and the moon was coming
Over the blue Connecticut hills;
The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
And over my head the swallows rushed
This way and that, with changeful wills.
I heard them twitter and watched them dart
Now together and now apart
Like dark petals blown from a tree;
The maples stamped against the west
Were black and stately and full of rest,
And the hazy orange moon grew up
And slowly changed to yellow gold
While the hills were darkened, fold on fold
To a deeper blue than a flower could hold.
Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.

O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,
And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;
If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.

Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.

========================

THE STORM,
by Sara Teasdale.

I thought of you when I was wakened
By a wind that made me glad and afraid
Of the rushing, pouring sound of the sea
That the great trees made.

One thought in my mind went over and over
While the darkness shook and the leaves were thinned --
I thought it was you who had come to find me,
You were the wind.