[ by Charles Cameron -- diplo cover-stories east and west, & a very funny movie ]
I wanted to recommend the Bertrand Tavernier film Quai d’Orsay, available at Netflix under the name The French Minister, in any case — but couldn’t resist this DoubleQuote betweet news and cinematic art:
The film is a quintessentially French diplo equivalent of the political bureaucracy and chicanery found in the UK and US versions of House of Cards, with the formidably unpredictable, Heraclitus-quoting Minister of the English language title apparently based on Dominique de Villepin.
Jem Cohen‘s film, Museum Hours, is set largely in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with a particular focus on Pieter Breughel the Elder. Less than 10 minutes into the film, this shot, showing a detail of one of his paintings:
is followed seamlessly — as though nothing had happened — by this one, a “detail” one might say, of the Vienna street, perhaps indeed as the viewer steps into it right outside the museum:
Between the two shots — in the cut — we move from the sixteenth to the twentyfirst century, and from curated museum to careless street. The painter’s eye is echoed by the cinematographer’s segue: litter remains litter.
The first image is a seemingly insignificant detail taken from the area of Breughel’s painting containing the “figure of Carnival”:
which you can easily spot, low down and slightly left of center, in the painting as a whole, here:
The painting itself, which goes by the title The Fight between Carnival and Lent, presents Breughel’s juxtaposition of festive and fasting seasons which follow one another seamlessly in the calendar of the church, while their respective impulses wrestle constantly for dominance in the hearts of humankind…
Drew Martin at The Museum of Peripheral Art blog notices the successive “litter” shots from inside and outside the museum in Cohen’s film, too, and writes:
The most brilliant thing about this movie is the use of segue. In one scene, a series of shots focus on details of a Bruegel painting with the guide’s voice listing the objects “.. discarded playing cards, a bone, a broken egg ..”, and then the images switch to nondescript ground shots in Vienna, as he continues “.. a cigarette butt, a folded note, a lost glove, a beer can.”
When I write of the power of juxtapositions and of the eye that perceives pattern, then, I am not speaking of something that is entirely subjective and personal, but of a faculty native to the human, yet woefully under-practiced, under-explored. My intention is to suggest that this faculty is not merely of use to the artist or art-historian, but basic to a rich and full cognizance of the world around us. It is one techne of reading the world, one of many.
How’s this for another juxtaposition from the same film?
[ by Charles Cameron -- on the hopelessly interdisciplinary nature of reality ]
There really is no limit to the diversity of strands which go into a complex tapestry such as that of Gaza.
Jean-Pierre Filiu has written, and Hurst will shortly publish, his History of Gaza. Mark Levine, University of California, Irvine, sums up both the book and the timeliness of its publication in his blurb:
Anyone familiar with Jean-Pierre Filiu’s scholarship knows well his talent for taking complex historical processes and bringing their relevance for the present day to the front burner. Never have such skills been more needed than in addressing the still poorly understood history of Gaza. And Filiu succeeds admirably. Providing a wonderful synopsis of a century’s worth of history, his discussion of the more direct roots of the present violent dynamics, beginning with the “crushed generation” of the Six Day War and continuing through the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene, demonstrates just how historically and culturally rich remains this much abused land. A clear must-read for all those seeking to think outside the existing outdated prisms for studying history, and the future of Gaza and Palestine/israel writ large.
Considering the appalling reality of life in contemporary Gaza, a broader view of the current situation can only be taken from the perspective of history, with an attempt to set aside the disorientation, the horror and the hatred that the present situation has engendered. The ‘Gaza Strip’, as it is today, is not so much a geographical entity as the product of the tormented and tragic history of a territory where the majority of the population is made up of refugees who have already attempted to escape other torments, and other tragedies. Gaza’s borders have closed in on those who have fled there: the refugees born within the territory have been destined to remain confined within it, a fate they also share with all of those who have dreamed of leaving it. Neither Israel nor Egypt wanted the ‘Strip’ to exist: it is a territorial entity ‘by default’.
When Filiu wrote his earlier book, Apocalypse in Islam, he knew the realities of the situation demanded he research pop culture as well as classical sources in Qur’an and ahadith — and devoted 8 full-color pages to illustrations of 21 book-covers like these:
It’s not surprising, then, that he covers “the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene” in this one — but the point I wish to make is more general. If we are to grasp the complex realities of today’s and tomorrow’s trouble-spots, we need to be aware of trends that impinge on our disciplinary foci — “national security” and so forth — from an unprecenented array of other areas. Many of our nat-sec authors, bloggers and tweeters, bloggers, authors and pundits are aware of these areas — Dan Drezner, for instance,eploicates international affairs via a trendy meme in his — but it’s the use of such memes by those the analysts study that’s most significant.
Thus Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote a year ago regarding the Boston bombing:
Tamerlan listened to all kinds of music, including classical and rap, and used the email address The_Professor@real-hiphop.com. In fact, a few years ago he had planned to enter music school. AP (Apr. 23) shows that Tamerlan’s interpretation of Islam guided his eventual avoidance of music. Six weeks after Tamerlan had told Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of his sister, about his plans to enter music school, they spoke on the phone. Elmirza asked how music school was going. Tamerlan said that he had quit, and explained that “music is not really supported in Islam.”
The first “homegrown” jihadist whom most Westerners learned about was John Walker Lindh, a young man who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks. Lindh, before his turn toward radical Islam, used to post regularly on hip-hop message boards in the adopted persona of a racially-conscious black hip-hop artist (Lindh is white, from the wealthy northern California region of Marin County).
And thus also, Disney characters now show up in anti-Hamas propaganda… echoing an image of Samantha Lewthwaite we’ve seen here before:
The truth is, pop culture, high culture, scholarship, propaganda, truths, myths and lies are all hopelessly entangled in how we think about the world, and while our thoughts may prefer certain disciplines or “silos” to others, the world itself is no respecter of silos, but is interdiscipoinary to the core.
[ by Charles Cameron -- peace as photo op, peace as common grief -- Tears of Gaza, poetry of Rumi -- second in a series ]
There are, it seems to me, Israelitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who lob rockets at them, and most recently at their nuclear facility at Dimona. There are, it seems to me, Palestinitarian reasons to be terrified by and / or furious with those who rain down airstrikes on them, killing among others 4 kids playing on a beach — all from the same family, and aged 8 to 10 years old …
Grief, it seems to me, is the humanitanian — no, the human — response.
I have to admit the upper of these two images leaves me cold and uncomfortable: it seems so clearly posed, with the two flags conveniently present as props. Perhaps, even, it comes from the same studio in Southern California that was used to fake the moon landing, all those many years ago — the Studio of the Unreal?
The lower of the two images, however, strikes me as authentic — two men whose grief at the loss of a son and a nephew transcends the dividing wall across which their families’ lives were bandied like pingpong balls…
Grief, not propaganda, is the human response.
Israelitarian, Palestinitarian — these are ugly words, and I hope not to use them again. But they light up for me the ugliness of their sibling, humanitarian — a word that, it seems to me, distances us from human possibility.
Israelis, Palestinians, these — and so many others around the globe in what we term “conflict zones” — are humans.
It is humans who die or bleed, humans who feel, one by one, on these occasions of horrific personal loss, the grief.
Perhaps then we can set aside considerations of nationality and fury, and watch the trailer for Tears of Gaza, as we may watch Restrepo, for the humanity of the humans portrayed:
It was the soundtrack which brought me to the Tears of Gaza video:
The song is Jalaluddin Rumi‘s — the words, so strange to our ears in the context of Gaza, then and today — yet also transcendent, also deeply human:
Since the atoms are dancing!
Out of joy,
because of whom
the celestial sphere
and the atmosphere
into your ear
that is in the air
and the plains,
look well at it
because like us
it is enraptured.
sun of joy.
Translation courtesy of Dr Alan Godlas of the University of Georgia, who very kindly pointed me to the soundtrack, and thus also to the documentary itself.
Dr Godlas responded to my questions with these notes:
That person = probably a reference to the Prophet (pbuh), as in the hadith qudsi, where God says (addressing the Prophet “Were it not for you, were it not for you, I would not have created the universe.”
The reference to the sun is probably Shams-e Tabrizi and also the perfect human sun-like essence within us, which reflects God.
Shams — whose name means “the sun” — was Rumi’s teacher, to whom many of Rumi’s poems were addressed.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.