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Without Pieties, With Gravitas

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens — Believe this book. Read it. Do not believe the newspaper stories that make you think it's all about the rise of Anti-Semitism in France. Those stories are only a specious handle on which to hook a journalistic feature. The book is literature, written by a woman in her mid-eighties as a letter addressed to her father who did not come back from Auschwitz. No, it's not warmed-over stew. Like many others who are reading this commentary, I've read and seen memoirs and fiction and essays and movies and contemporary artworks and . . . and . . . about the Holocaust. I don't believe in the claim for its exceptionalism; Cambodia's killing fields live side by side with the … [Read more...]

HOLD STILL / KEEP MOVING: Women Photographers’ Memoirs

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann, Little, Brown and Company, 2015 It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario, Penguin Press, 2015 — Early in my reading of photographer Sally Mann’s recently published memoir, Hold Still, I thought I wasn’t going to like her, this woman who is pleased to write of herself that she sometimes doesn’t leave her rural home for five weeks, not even to go to the grocery store, appearing not to realize that her bohemian abstention from ordinary lives is, in fact, privilege. I confess though that I have a low tolerance for privilege, and an even lower one for seemingly willful ignorance of it. As I began to read Hold Still, her book lit little crackly twigs … [Read more...]

The Christmas Card that Never Was

But Reached Biblical Proportions Despite — Christmas Creativity Beginning 6 years ago I started work on a holiday card that would feature a series of gun-toting Jesus’ from online. I was tempted by the eye-catching efforts of various “artists” to recruit this man, legendary for his non-violent views, to their own base purposes. It was to be an irreverent, “He’d Turn in His Grave” kind of card. I would staple it together into as a found-art booklet that would amuse and impress friends with my Crazy Christmas Creativity. Little did I know how vastly infectious the Jesus meme is when it enters one’s life and consciousness. So, how do we know who Jesus is? We readily recognize this bearded longhair, even in disguise. Google Jesus … [Read more...]

Broken Windows

Personalizing the Politics of Wealth — Expressing astonishment, a friend who recently moved from New York to Mexico to sidestep rising rents, sent me a link to a Mother Jones article on the booming job market in “wealth counselors.” These are the psychologists who help the extremely wealthy cope with the unique suffering that attends being burdened by buckets of cashola. This note arrived the same week the Wall Street Journal printed an Op-Ed by billionaire Tom Perkins comparing the Occupy Wall Street protests to Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. Subjected to immediate and sustained ridicule, Perkins doubled down, defending the comparison, as did the Journal’s Op-Ed editors. More recently, Ben Carson, the arch-conservative celebrity … [Read more...]

Six Years with God: The Trials and Legacy of the Source Family

The Source Family by Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille. 2013. Drag City Film Distribution. The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wha 13 and The Source Family by Isis & Electricity Aquarian. 2007. Process Media. ISBN 0976082293 — Everyone remembers the high-vibration rainbow salad sprinkled with kindness and brewer’s yeast, served to John Lennon or Warren Beatty sitting on paisley throw pillows, by flaxen-haired girls too young to remember a time before birth control pills. Or Woody Allen ordering a plate of mashed yeast in Annie Hall. Or the 4AM chanting sessions in the room out back, led by giant bearded man in the blinding white robe who spoke with the voice of God in the eternal now. 1970. While many in the … [Read more...]

Bad Boys and Good Girls

The Artist's Life — Two provocative books about individual artist's lives came out early this year —Bad Boy-My Life On and Off the Canvas (Crown Publishers, 2013) an autobiography of painter Eric Fischl written with Michael Stone, and The Woman Upstairs, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), a novel by author Claire Messud. Since I read them in sequence, the question arose as to how one book based on facts, and another a work of fiction frames the experience of the contemporary artist. Fischl, an ultra successful painter in the mid-1980's opens his autobiographical account with a coke and alcohol fueled traffic incident in New York after the opening of his retrospective at the Whitney to commemorate five years of unrelenting good fortune, … [Read more...]

A Well of Conspiracy

The Tall Assassin, A Discussion with Author and Former SAPF Alan Elsdon   — The Year is 1942, Republic of South Africa. The Emergency Regulations Act, designed by General Smuts to curb pro-Nazi activities, had begun to bite at the ankles of the Ossewabrandwag membership list. The rounding up of Afrikaners and Nazi Auslanders into prison camps may have averted a civil war, but it also brought together many of the day's anti-democratic minds, and there they talked and fomented South Africa's future. At one such camp, Koffiefontein, there were interred together two men who would go on to shape the history of the country as few others would, one on the political stage and the other behind the scenes. The former, John Vorster, is well known. … [Read more...]

Excavating the Tell

A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald by Errol Morris, 2012 Ulysses, it is said, was so full of guile, was such a fox, that not even the goddess of fate could pierce his armor. Perhaps he had really noticed, although here the human understanding is beyond its depths, that the Sirens were silent...   – Kafka At the heart of all forensic science there are questions of epistemology which are often taken for granted. How can things be proven to have happened or not happened? How can memories be verified? What if something that looks like a duck and quacks like a duck was never a duck? All modes of inquiry are both predicated on and forever problematized by the relationship between ourselves and the world, as … [Read more...]

Off Their Rockers

Who I Am, A Memoir, by Pete Townsend (Harper Collins 2012), Life, by Keith Richards with James Fox (Little, Brown and Company 2010), The Heart Broke In, by James Meek, (MacMillan, 2012) The Patrick Melrose Novels  (MacMillan, 2012) and  At Last (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), by Edward St. Aubyn — It’s New Year’s Eve 1966 at the Roundhouse on Chalk Farm Road in London. My English girlfriend and I are surrounded by a frightening mob of inebriated, quarrelsome Mods and Rockers. It’s cold outside and The Roundhouse is an unheated brick train shed. Illicit warming fires are started here and there, right on the floor. Several fights break out. There’s only one door in or out and it’s far away through a sea of bodies. A 17-year-old … [Read more...]