Monday, May 6, 2013
1999 Article on Tian An Men Square incidents - Time.com, by Wang Dan
More on Tian An Men, 2009 Article on Tian An Men, 2012 Article - Tian An Men
Friday, April 19, 2013
Part of what he examines in "fünf" people like me know is the Jewish question that other writers have
Monday, April 15, 2013
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Günter Grass – The Tin Drum.
This novel that reads like a fantastic voyage through life in Germany from the 1930’s through the end of the War and reconstruction in Western Europe, could be a straight biography of a person who spent his life in various hospitals and asylums, though a number of the details of the story (the standard edition is over five hundred pages) are so out – of – the – ordinary as to call for a fictive and colourful version of a story of a single protagonist Oskar Matzerath. Oskar, in his childhood, acquired a drum that he replaces with larger and larger versions of the same drum at different points in his life. The adventures he traverses replacing the drum sometimes are interesting, sometimes humourous and can be even haunting. The symbolism of the drum is lost on simple readers like me, though the same symbolism might apply to the drum in Grass’ story of Matzerath as bells pealing in other novels, or the “Te Deum” in Shakespeare, or even the stars of David required to be worn by Jews during the Holocaust. It is perhaps left to each individual reader, the again separate and individual significance of the key image of the novel, Oskar’s drum, that is the subject of various threads through twentieth century German history, antics, again adventures, humour, resentment from others and the like.
The novel takes place mostly in Poland, though there is train travel everywhere in Europe the Poles and Germans in the day found themselves. The book begins with Oskar’s childhood, his relationship with his parents’ parent, his parents, and others that paints a portrait of ordinary life in pre – War Central Europe. The images of his family are captivating indeed as the customs and mories, and the family – centrism of the old world that have been lost are brought out in great relief. This is followed by a traversing of the 1933 anti – Jewish laws in Germany and Austria and this period of pogroms in those territories and in Poland as well. All this time, and partially due to Oskar’s relationship with his drum and other circumstances, Oskar tells his story from the point of view of a mental patient; nonetheless one who is allowed to circulate, see family and friends, have relationships, and whereas his stays in the world with people are temporary if not ephemeral, his relationship to the hospital on most occasions is largely the same. The text is also full of stories about what goes on in mental hospital psych. units, and there is an entire spate of these anecdotes where Oskar does manage each time, as in his life’s adventures outside an institution, to emerge more or less unscathed with his drum under his arm.
Just before 1940, the Germans attack Poland and Oskar is in a number of battle scenes where his town is destructively attacked by blitzkrieging Wehrmacht and other German military units, resulting in the death and devastation of many of his friends. There is also the issue in Poland of the Russian army in the partition of the country by the Axis powers and Russia at the time. Apparently, the Russian army meted out equal devastation as the Germans. This, along with other images of the war and the operations of concentration camps, the battle scenes, atrocities and the like, has the makings of a long, extremely destructive, interminably bloody nightmare. The War ends and Oskar takes up different jobs and the like in attempts to continue his life in the post – Axis era with his drum under his arm. People do express curiosity at the adult Oskar and his drum, and responses to his interlocutors range from his declaring himself a musician to “none of your business” – type declarations given the pestering questions of officious characters.
From the detailed illustration at the beginning of the plot of his family and friends and younger life, through the brutal nightmare of the nazi era, to the post – War era that takes up the latter part of Book Two and Book Three, Oskar maintains his drum playing and his life in and out of hospitals. He pursues different jobs and has some measure of success with a number of endeavours; all the time maintaining principal focus on his instrument. The thematics of his family relationships and details, and the grotesque and violent images of the Holocaust carry through and influence the latter part of the plot where Germany recovers from the devastation of WWII to become economically and politically formidable again in a free world where fascism is on the dustbin of history. Oskar winds his way through various adventures that are colored by the destruction of the war and the ostracism of the Central European powers, including some of the influential figures of the time as hailing from his native Poland. The emotional and psychological images due to this throughout the text are important to read through, and are fantastic and unreal in the respect that Oskar has no point of reference for his notions as narrated as they are, and his mind meanders through various themes and related and unrelated images showing the great art and authenticity of Grass’ prose and his use of Oskar as a mouthpiece for these meaningful themes and images, dreams and experiences themselves in view of 20th century military conflict, and with the eventuality of the end of the 1939 – 1945 War. An excellent read for anyone honestly concerned by these issues. Oskar toward the end of the plot participates in various travels, relationships, and has influences that eventually render him histrionic, i.e., whereas he comes to fear a ubiquitous “Black Witch,” and provokes various incidents of which declaring himself “Jesus” before police authorities during some of his travels. Overall, this book and its author post mortem, are an excellent profile of the magical and metaphysical that surround those individuals and groups of people affected, damaged and cast out as the result of the inanity and brutality of 20th century conflict.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
This hard – hitting text, actually written like a novel, despite its being a non – fiction piece, tells the story of unimaginable repression and gratuitous violence inside the North Korean corrections system, more or less as a throwback to the old days of the completely dehumanized communist prison system in the former U.S.S.R. That the North Koreans have chosen since some time ago, even at the collapse of communist forces everywhere, to emulate if not duplicate the soviet work camp system in all its horrific aspects and detail does seem unhinged. The present North Korean leadership somehow still refuses to acknowledge such camps exist, or even there might be a chance of them and by this relies on the theory of the big lie, itself as dependent upon greater fools. It is possible that the Kim Jong Eun regime continues to deny the existence of these debased, undignified and repressive (again) camps because U.S. and other allies’ imaging of the camp areas might be sketchy and though while indicating the presence of work zones and industrial and agricultural concerns in places like the Camp 14, there is no incontrovertible and completely certain official state opinion anywhere as to the establishment and maintenance of these institutions in the North. Also, as had been the case with Chin Dong – hyuk as an escapee from the DPRK repressive corrections system, escapes and then defections are rare and while there are defections and the like to South Korea, Japan, etc., every day, South Korean towns themselves do not allow for the continued presence of many of the few escapees and the reasons for this are evident and include dirty work as performed by the state services from DPRK to the North.
That Chin Dong – hyuk was born in one of the infamous DPRK prison camps in an area around the Taedong river, and that he grew up in that system, having been considered a criminal from birth by DPRK state policy, and that his only avenue for survival at different points in his living within that repressive camp system included wrongdoings that were frequent, immoral and criminal; tells the reader that there is more to the communist / socialist model of prison corrections today than detention and incarceration. It does and did include personally injuring and destroying one’s fellow inmates to the extent possible, even oneself under the circumstances: a. Wrongs and various types of individual destruction and bad behavior are encouraged within that system despite the official rules of the system and its sentencing guidelines not allowing for these things including various types of trafficking and contraband trade; b. With the image of corrections in most Western nation states as one of rewarding exemplary and notably well – socialized behavior as is0 in the evidence, the DPRK prison system in its nefarious glory encourages problem behaviors that circumvent the proper and normal standards of civil and ordinary conduct and social interaction; c. From this story and its contents that start with the narrator’s childhood and continue to the present day, one can tell that things like education, hard work and industriousness and other positive traits, are completely discouraged; d. Crimes by prisoners against each other, from the most petty to the most egregious capital crimes, are not exclusive of wrongs against the prisoners by camp authorities given who they are and their work ethic, cancelling much of the humane and humanitarian approach to detention in DPRK as preached by its leadership; e. It is entirely possible the flogging and torturing of prisoners at the same time, and by camp ‘trustees’ and other state personnel, and the crimes against prisoners, that no NGO, nor association nor collection of people will ever be able to address these endemic issues addressing what should be done with people, and the DPRK system even with its habit of frequent sabre - rattling and its relations with P.R.C.; f. It is surprising, in fact a complete surprise, that DPRK detention and incarceration methods and facilities, degenerate as they are, have not found a home and are not constantly subject to public scrutiny and resultant misinformation due to pressure from various “watchers” and the reaction to them by DPRK; g. There are too many examples at present of the obduracy and degeneracy of DPRK prison camps, as documented, for world public opinion not to allow for and adverse judgment of these institutions, and subjecting them to examination and their conditions and people, including inmates, an evaluation of methods and practices in North Asia, if adjudicated, will probably be ignored by DPRK and its friends; h. There are any number of inhuman conditions that can be cited concerning the conduct and just observation of North Korean society and its camp system, and the material in this text that calls for a resolution of these things is predicated upon international conflict on many fronts; … .
The details as described above provide an extremely stark and sinister backdrop to most of the Chin story before his arrival in South Korea and then America. The tortures and abuses suffered by Chin and his co – heroes at present, some of whom have passed before their time as the result of abuses within DPRK camps, are deeply scarred and deeply personal at the same time. In a way, while stories by other dissenters include much functional material that is persuasive but cannot really portray personal feelings and the overall humanity of politically – motivated sentencing in places like North Asia, the Chin story is one of very balanced informational details and a depiction at the same time of a very young person who has been compelled to survive to travel West and tell about an entire history, but who, through the unbearable shocks and vicissitudes of prison camp life has been led to believe by his camp handlers in an very penetrable way that shame and guilt, degeneracy, thoughts of self – destruction and other negative influences are constructive in daily life. Russian Marxists (actually former Marxists) perfected this and other things long ago in the workings of the day in their GULAG system and this cause in “producing” people has been taken up in the camp system in DPRK as well. The justification for such things, including the Marxian idea about utopia that displaced such ideas in Russia from Western Europe in 1917 / 18 – 21, does smack of flim – flammery and calls for the kind of state oppression within the state as one finds in DPRK at present. These are political statements that only border on what appears to be the purpose of the Chin story, which is in one small way to “check” the grim and ghoulish forces that rule there at this time.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Monday, March 4, 2013
Sunday, February 24, 2013
This eminent text has to do originally with the refugee status of many Hebrew people everywhere after the end of the world war more than fifty years ago. Many were in sordid and sub – standard conditions even for the poorest of the poor in the day due to their having been first pursued by the Axis powers that then sought to eliminate them completely. The victorious Allies at the time as supervised by the Americans were given the dubious task of resettling these people wherever they could find a home and doubtless due to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, many of them preferred Palestine but could not or did not make it there. In 1945, when the world war ended, Hebrew people from everywhere, especially in what were the final battlegrounds from the war, made their way to Palestine the best they could, often traveling by train and then by boat, both modes of transportation that at the time had become rickety and risky for passengers given the battleground military’s having taken most working infrastructure equipment for itself at the time and thus having left only some working transport for civilians there in Europe and neighboring territories.
The text in any event gives rich encapsulations for the reader of deportations, conditions in the camps, methods used by the Nazis to eliminate the Jews, the situation in the Warsaw Ghetto and related uprising, the situation of Jews in Russia, and that in the other major camps in Southern Poland and Germany, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere at the time. The text uses these details as a backdrop for personal stories of many different personalities, all fictitious, and their lives as they unfold after the Allied victory. The plot even goes into the first Arab – Israeli war in 1947, and examines the plight of Palestinian Jews making the attempt to emigrate to Israel at the time as well. “Exodus,” the title of the book, is taken from a passenger ship with 300 Jewish children at the time making its way from Cyprus to Israel. A highly recommended read for anyone.