This Arrogant Autonomy

Fifty years ago, the great novelist James Baldwin published an essay in The Nation titled, A Report From Occupied Territory. With a few minor changes of names and places, it may well have been published yesterday. Excerpts below, with images from Jacob Lawrence’s remarkable Migration Series, dating from 1940-41.

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DURING WORLD WAR I THERE WAS A GREAT MIGRATION NORTH

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FROM EVERY SOUTHERN TOWN MIGRANTS LEFT BY THE HUNDREDS

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THERE HAD ALWAYS BEEN DISCRIMINATION

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THE FEMALE WORKERS WERE THE LAST TO ARRIVE NORTH

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Once DP readers have worked through Annie Proulx’s masterful Barkskins, we urge consideration of one of the most important books of American history published in the fifty years since Baldwin’s searing report: Constance and Ned Sublette’s The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding History.  More on this, in a future post.


No Whisky, No Bacon

In the Annals of Hubris and Delusion, surely the blatherings of Jeff Bezos will receive a special respository. We have an ear for satire here at DP, yet reality defeats our imagination day after day. The below are quotes from a recent Bezos interview, with images taken from the Blue Origin “gallery”.

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CEO OF THE SIXTH EXTINCTION AND HIS EXIT STRATEGY

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STROKE THIS MUSCLE GENTLY AND IT WILL SPRAY YOU WITH A THOUSAND EINSTEINS

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THE UNIVERSE AND HUMAN STUPIDITY: THE TWO INFINITIES

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BEAM ME UP SCOTTIE; WE’RE DONE HERE.

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We read these words once, and laugh; read them again, and weep. Not content to commodify everything that moves on planet earth, Jeff Bezos puts his name forward for the title of Ultimate Inverted Utopian.

Memo to all such “builders”: gravity is not the only force in the universe that does not care about you.


The Imperial Cookbook

Now comes Ashley Dawson, with an excerpt from his recently published book Extinction: A Radical History. Notable for its critique of the concept of the anthropocene (more on that below), the book also includes a discussion of how empires exhaust their most vital rhythm, between extraction abroad and distraction at home.

Imperial deployment of bread and circuses to keep the core population obedient and passive is well known; yet it is important to remember that such a rhythm ultimately ends in decay, and with the empire in ruins. Appetites may be infinite, but the material world is inescapably finite.

In the below three paragraphs, Dawson beautifully summarizes how the imperial rhythm plays itself out, first into debauchery and then into oblivion. The italics at the close of the final passage are added by DP.

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Regarding the critique of the concept of the anthropocene, Dawson recently stated in a recent interview:

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Humility and Virtue

We have recently finished a novel that in time will be considered a rare American masterpiece: Barkskins. In graceful prose that expresses what must be expressed and nothing more, Annie Proulx — whose work we have long admired here at DP — chronicles the violent eradication of the  boreal/acadian forest in North America, together with the eradication of the people who lived in harmony within those ancient woods. Through the richly detailed lives of dozens of characters, Proulx conveys the heavy personal and cultural price exacted by that most vicious counterpoint, between ecocide and genocide.

The novel begins with two epigraphs, the second of which is taken from an essay by the historian Lynn White, dated 1967: The Historical Roots of the Ecological Crisis. We were curious about the context for her selected passage (which is highlighted below in bold italics). The fact that the essay reads like it might have been written yesterday prompts us to post two long excerpts, though it is certainly worth close consideration in its entirety. The image (added by DP) is relayed from the studio of Peter Randall-Page.

 

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BLOOD TREE

BLOOD TREE

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For the curious, the first epigraph for Barkskins descends from George Santayana:

Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together. 


Extinction Tourism

Arctic sea ice has reached yet another winter low this year; National Snow and Ice Data Center director Mark Serreze reported, “I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic; the heat was relentless.”

Not to worry; every looming disaster opens the floodgates to commercial possibility. Enter the luxury cruise ship, Crystal Serenity:

IN CRYSTAL SERENITY WE WATCH THE MOVIE OF OUR OWN IMMINENT DISAPPEARANCE

IN CRYSTAL SERENITY WE WATCH THE MOVIE OF OUR OWN DISAPPEARANCE

Here are the credits for the movie, as provided by the executive producer, Extinction, Inc. :

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We are delighted to see a ventriloquist on board, and with a soundtrack of Billy Joel floating through the movie, what could possibly go wrong?

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Passengers are advised to make certain they are decked out in proper apparel. No burkinis, s’il vous plait.

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ESSENTIALS FOR A BEAR, LAID BARE; WAIT, WHAT?

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YES, BUT WILL I FIND ANY RARE POKEMONS THERE?

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On this day, August 25, the vessel is traversing the Beaufort Sea. Boring!!! What to do? The concierge recommends that you “write your story” as follows:

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Passengers will need ample recovery time after playing a few rounds of golf on the planet’s most northerly links:

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What tales to share with the grandchildren! What fun we had, putting with the “native residents” upon artificial greens!

Ah, but for every Grand Party, there is sure to be a Grand Pooper, and so it goes with the Crystal Serenity, in the voice of Michael Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, and is — sigh — listed as part of the cruise “enrichment program”:

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OK, enough already with with the Debbie Downer doom and gloom: we have an appointment to have our every whim catered for, poolside. Properly attired, bien sûr!

IT'S ALL GOOD!

IT’S ALL GOOD!

 


Below the Dead Language

We are indebted to the artist Mariam Ghani for alerting us to the remarkable work of the poet Solmaz Sharif, whose recently published Look explores and explodes the duplicitous language of state violence, as well as the unrelenting violence against language.

A morning of reading and research eventually led us to Sharif’s brilliant Kenyon Review “credo”, A Poetry of Proximity, excerpted below.

The images are taken from Ghani’s 2011 video The Trespassers, a subtle and incisive exploration of the ambiguous role of diasporic translators during the interrogations of detainees, deep inside the gulag of the Forever War.

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Solmaz Sharif:

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Here at DP, we have placed an order for Sharif’s Look with our local bookseller; once it arrives, we shall certainly have more to say about this important poet.


The Playbook

We note the recent release of documents related to the process through which the targets of drone assasinations are selected and executed. Apparently this is intended as evidence of the Obama administrations commitment to openness and transparency; after all, during a staff swearing-in ceremony in January, 2009, the President had stated: “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

Below, we provide a visual representation of these touchstones, excerpting from what is known – perversely – as “the playbook”. This is what transparency looks like in the Age of Extralegal Obliteration:

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For more on the relationship between secrecy and obliteration, see Out of Darkness Floods the Light; for more on this President’s fundamental misunderstanding of his primary obligation, that is, to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, see Turning and Turning.


An Original Child

On this Hiroshima Day, we turn to Thomas Merton:

 

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To quote another American poet, Carl Sandburg, from a poem that predates the birth of the original child:

We are the greatest city,

the greatest nation,

nothing like us ever was.


Sacrifice Zones

Now comes Naomi Klein, with excerpts from an excellent recent essay that explores the relationships among climate change, fossil fuels and violence by way of revisiting certain ideas expressed in the past by Edward Said, regarding the limitations of environmentalism. The images are from the richly recycled oil cans exhibited within the online gallery of Cal Lane.

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For those who – perversely enough – continue to beat the [oil] drum of America’s “greatness”, let us keep firmly in mind that such ephemeral greatness has been achieved largely through cultural genocide; desecration of the landscape; the destruction of worker lungs and bodies; and the global export of our most precious “service”: violence.

What would it mean if we were to choose instead to become, as Klein suggests, great ancestors?


Buried In Nature

On the eve of our own departure for a solitary walk through mountain forests, we invite consideration of a few passages from Frédérick Gros’ Philosophy of Walking:

 

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We shall continue our DP navigations in a few weeks when we return from the middle of nowhere.

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