The Trouble with Tolstoy: In Search of Happiness

February 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

This is part two of the BBC documentary about the greatest writer that ever lived. (Part 1 is here.)

Alan Yentob continues his train ride through Tolstoy’s Russia, examining how Russia’s great novelist became her great troublemaker.

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The Trouble with Tolstoy: At War with Himself

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is part one of a must see BBC documentary on the world’s greatest writer, Lev Tolstoy. (Part 2 is here.)

Alan Yentob takes an epic train ride through Tolstoy’s Russia, examining how Russia’s great novelist became her great troublemaker.

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Hardtalk with Gore Vidal

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

This one is from 2008. Gore Vidal on the BBC’s Hardtalk.

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Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong

January 17, 2012 § 11 Comments

by Jesse Lieberfeld

I once belonged to a wonderful religion. I belonged to a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world—and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time. Once, I thought that I truly belonged in this world of security, self-pity, self-proclaimed intelligence, and perfect moral aesthetic. I thought myself to be somewhat privileged early on. It was soon revealed to me, however, that my fellow believers and I were not part of anything so flattering.

Although I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to force me into any one set of beliefs, being Jewish was in no way possible to escape growing up. It was constantly reinforced at every holiday, every service, and every encounter with the rest of my relatives. I was forever reminded how intelligent my family was, how important it was to remember where we had come from, and to be proud of all the suffering our people had overcome in order to finally achieve their dream in the perfect society of Israel.

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Re-Membering Toba Tek Singh: Looking for Manto

January 1, 2012 § 6 Comments

by Huma Dar

Sa'adat Hasan Manto

Sa'adat Hasan Manto

In today’s edition of, Jan 1, 2012, the renowned and beloved feminist poet, Fahmida Riaz has an article, “Understanding Manto,” about Urdu literature’s enfant terrible, Sa’adat Hasan Manto.  This year will mark Manto’s birth centenary.  Thank you, Fahmida Apa, for writing this moving tribute!  Sad indeed is the day when Pakistan cannot or does not publish Manto’s work, uncensored, unedited.  Despite justified indignation, knowing our “guardians of morality and piety,” it aches my heart to confess, I am not surprised.

Ironically, the “Indian pirated edition” — even if we overlook the immense ethical difficulties with the issue of piracy, and the direly-needed resources that were (and are) thus withheld from Manto and his family —  is still no guarantee of accessing the “original, uncensored text.”  Christine Everaert in her book, Tracing the Boundaries between Hindi and Urdu: Lost and Added in Translation (Brill, 2009) painstakingly records many elisions, omissions, and additions in just a few of Manto’s stories as they’re carried from their original Urdu to the [pirated] Hindi versions.  Some of these transformations are, of course, to ease the transmission of the literary register in Urdu to Hindi; others to simply make things more palatable for Indian nationalism.  (Please especially see the Chapter II of this book for many examples…)

Bombing Savages in Law, in Fact, in Fiction

December 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Professor Paul Gilroy chairs this event with Sven Lindqvist, the great Swedish author of over 30 widely translated books including A History of Bombing.

This lecture marks the centenary of aerial bombardment. More than just a military revolution, this development redrew the legal and moral boundaries between civilians and combatants and spread the theatre of war into cities and domestic spaces.

The lecture is part of a joint initiative of LSE Sociology and the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London.

UPDATE: In case you are having trouble listening to the whole lecture, you can hear it on the LSE website instead.

Philip Levine: A Workingman’s Voice

December 12, 2011 § 7 Comments

By Feroz Rather

With a serene and distant view of the hills of Sierra Nevada, on 9 August, 2011, I sat in a library at California State University Fresno, reading The Simple Truth, a collection of poems by Philip Levine. The day after, Mr. Levine, 83, was being nominated by the Library of Congress the next poet laureate of the United States. The felicitations, however, had made their way to the poet’s home here in Fresno and thrilled the entire community of writers in the Central Valley of California. Brandi Spaethe, a friend and fellow writer in our MFA program, broke the news to me. And while walking this beautiful campus dotted with maple trees, with an ecstatic gusto of a poet-in-the-making, she fell into long recitations of many touching poems from the book.

Philip Levine was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents in 1928, a year before the Great Depression started paralyzing the economy of the US. Levine was educated in Detroit public schools and at Wayne State University, Michigan’s only urban public research university. After graduation, Levine worked a number of industrial jobs, including the night shift at the Cheverolet Gear and Axle factory in 1953, working on his poems in his off hours.   In the fall of the same year, he journeyed to the University of Iowa to attend a poetry workshop. In his autobiographical account, The Bread of Time, he recalls: “The attraction at Iowa was Robert Lowell, whose Lord’s Weary Castle had received the Pulitzer Prize.”Afterwards, he became Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. And then in 1958, he came to Fresno and began teaching English and writing at California State University and which went on for 34 years.

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Blue Nights: a conversation with Joan Didion

November 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Christopher Lydon of the excellent Radio Open Source speaks to Joan Didion, one of the greatest non-fiction writers and prose stylists of the past half century, about her latest book Blue Nights. The book is a follow-up to her acclaimed The Year of Magical Thinking; both are meditations on death inspired by the death of her husband, the author John Gregory Dunne, closely followed by the death of her adopted daughter Quintana.

Joan Didion is reading from her second smashing meditation on death, Blue Nights. And I’m her interlocutor and foil again onstage in Cambridge. With a woman of the considered written word, not the spontaneous spoken word, it’s a tricky job. And it didn’t solve for me the puzzle of Didion’s power. But how could I not share it, or you not respond?

Joan Didion’s a writers’ writer gone suddenly, in her seventies, rock star and phenomenon, meeting a hungry market for introspections on death both sudden, as in the case of her husband John Gregory Dunne and Didion’s 2005 best-seller, The Year of Magical Thinking; or slow and almost unfathomable death, which came to Didion’s adopted daughter Quintana Roo, at 39, and prompted Blue Nights. Six hundred readers bought books and tickets to hear Didion and pack the First Church in Harvard Square last night.

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Mailer on Mailer

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

From the American Masters series. Interviews with Norman Mailer

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Kama Sutra for Palestinian Intellectuals — Or, How to Love Mahmoud Darwish

August 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Amal Amireh

The new Syrian TV drama “In the Presence of Absence,” about the life of the poet Mahmoud Darwish, is giving some Palestinians an ulcer this Ramadan season. The series is being broadcast on several Arab satellite channels, including the Palestinian one. Some objected to the series before it was made because they thought those who were undertaking the project are doing it for profit and are not being faithful to the memory of Palestine’s national poet. Their effort to stop it didn’t pan out and now they are watching in horror as they see their beloved poet miscast, misrepresented, and twisted out of shape. The actor-criminal is one Firas Ibrahim that everyone seems to love to hate. Believe me, voodoo dolls of him will sell like hot qatayef in Rmallah.

They are lamenting that this great poet is being sacrificed on the altar of egos and art-for-profit. They are in a panic that the legacy of Darwish is in danger and that he is being mutilated for an audience that does not know much about him. Some of those objecting to this drama knew Darwish personally: they are friends, disciples, and colleagues. Some are readers who love the man for the poetry he wrote. I feel their pain!

But instead of using the occasion of a bad TV drama to celebrate the Darwish they love, to educate people about his poetry, to write articles that critique the drama they don’t approve of, I’m sad to report that two thousand Palestinian intellectuals are demanding taking the offensive drama off the air.  They have even demonstrated in front of Palestine TV to that effect. In other words, they are calling for censorship. Their love for Darwish seems to have obscured their vision.*

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