Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Big Wind...

A big wind is coming here on the cusp of late spring. Big enough to carry our little Cello to the heavens. Time to batten down the hatches, but dangerous winds have been blowing for a long time now. I think of the wind that blows through the subway tunnels of my old home town, the hollowing winds of hate blowing off the those grim -tiled walls, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man--Support Israel, Defeat Jihad." See if you can escape this wind by pretending you do not see, by turning your back on the ugliness of Jewish extremism, as ugly as any other in this world of  hate filled- word storms. The woman responsible for this so old old division of the world, this division of who is human and who is not, makes a life out of taking the life out of others in the name of protecting Jews. Money and hatred, money and ignorance--painting the walls of a great city. Let other winds come, let the shanda stand exposed, the shame of it all, not in our Jewish name, not our Star of David. Judith Butler receives an award in Germany, and the streets outside the hall fills with zealots, calling her a traitor. Their winds of intolerance patrol the borders of public speech, denying thinkers like Iilan Pappe a German audience. Twisted in its own guilt, the Germans can't sustain their own commitment to free speech, a frail candle in the face of torrents of warnings. I stand with so many other Jews and others, who know raising Israel above criticism, is a dead end not only for Israel but more and more, for all of us on this howling planet. The suffering of the Palestinian people is not a secret to be whispered in the small corridors of power. It is there for all of us to see as is their strength of struggle to try to keep their olive trees greens, their familial wells still running with water, their children finding the cracks in the wall that lets hope in. Let those words in the wind-filled tunnels be cast into the disgrace they deserve by the rush of the multitude, diverse and wondrous, the tumultuous rushing of the people of New York, away from the Gellers of the world, into the winds of complex understandings, sometimes ragged at the edges but so filled with human possibilities.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Courage in the Night, Melbourne, September 18, 2012

The rain had continued the whole day and into the night, but I had a place to go, something I would not miss. Ilan Pappe, the Israeli Jewish author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) was speaking at the University of Melbourne, in a theater off the Tin Alley [in my New York brain, I always read this as Tin Pan Alley] entrance of the university whose paths I had walked early in my life here, in the late 90s and into the new century, as an Honorary Fellow working with graduate students in English and Cultural Studies, reading their dissertations and trying to be helpful but often learning more than I gave. I joined a steady stream of people who had the same determination not to miss the opportunity to hear this scholar who had been part of the New Historians generation in Israel, those who had taken advantage of the opening up of government archives to peer into the processes of population displacement that so marked Israel's early days. The auditorium was full with young and old sitting on the steps when seats ran out.

Iilan Pappe is middle height, gray, a little round, his voice marked by his Israeli heritage, who stood in front of a screen showing three maps of Palestine Israel, from 1948 to the present, the shrinking of the Palestinian lands clearly visible. He spoke of his conviction that to use the term "occupation" is not an accurate label for what Israel has always planned for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in its territory. Colonization, that huge system enforcing a people's loss of control over almost every thing that allows a people to survive with a sense of an autonomous self, is closer to what is happening, what was always planned to happen. I sat thinking of the Algerian struggle, the South African struggle, of the internalized colonizations as in the system of American slavery, and saw the limits of our phrase, "end the occupation." You can find podcasts of Pappe's talks, you can read his books, his new one to be called, "The Beaucracy of Evil;" I just want to record here that in his gentle strength, in his careful scholarship, in his refusal to fall into easy answers and in his commitment to looking straight into the face of his own country's heartless manipulations, I saw a man who as Dr Wolf, his introducer said at the end, "this Jew from Haifa, steadfast and resolute"  lit up the dark night, who by his insistent call on all of us to do something, to understand how systems of colonization can be dismantled, but only by a resistance as dedicated to repossession as those who invest all in destroying the lives of the colonized other.  Among his last words he called out attention to the maps behind them; yes, he said these are one kind of map but what is not pictured there are the maps of Palestinian resistance, the maps of hope that many are trying to bring into being.

Earlier he had explained that as a result of his 2006 book, the Israeli government had closed the archives, had refused to allow his book to be published in Israel and that he was working on a Hebrew translation that he would post on line, one way of drawing new maps. Open archives, undoctored documents, the transparency of history, how essential for democratic processes and yet a question seldom asked when we evaluate governments, including our own. If  national memories are in the service of propaganda then there is only contaminated silences to inherit.

Out again into the night, rain and cold. I made my way to Swanston street, glad for my cane, my fold- up traveling pansy- decorated "fashionable" cane. I stood leaning against a street lamp right near the Tin Alley sign. A smiling young woman also full of light she seemed came up to me and asked if I needed any help. No, I am waiting for a taxi, but thank you for being so kind. A night of offerings, one huge in scope, one small, but I was given life by both.

Translation by Edith Rubenstein
Courage dans la nuit, Melbourne, 18 septembre 2012  La pluie a continué toute la journée et jusque dans la soirée, mais j’avais un endroit où aller, quelque chose que je ne voulais pas rater. Ilan Pappe, l’écrivain juif israélien auteur de L’épuration ethnique de la Palestine (2006) parlait à l’Université de Melbourne, dans un théâtre au-delà de  l’entrée de l’université de la Tin Alley (dans mon esprit newyorkais, je le lis toujours comme la Tin Pan Alley) dont j’avais parcouru les sentiers au début de ma vie ici, à la fin des années 1990 et dans le siècle nouveau, comme collègue honoraire travaillant avec des étudiants diplômés en anglais et en études culturelles, lisant leurs dissertations et essayant d’être utile, mais apprenant plus souvent plus que ce que j’offrais. J’ai rejoint un flot régulier de gens qui avait la même détermination de ne pas rater l’opportunité d’entendre cet intellectuel qui avait fait partie de la Nouvelle génération d’historiens en Israël, ceux qui avaient profité de l’avantage de l’ouverture des archives gouvernementales pour scruter les processus de déplacement de populations qui ont tellement marqué le début d’Israël. L’auditoire était plein de jeunes et de vieux assis sur les marches d’escalier quand il n’y a plus eu de sièges libres.  Ilan Pappe est de taille moyenne, gris, un peu rondouillet, sa voix marquée par son héritage israélien, qui se tenait devant un écran montrant trois cartes de la Palestine Israël, de 1948 à aujourd’hui, le rétrécissement des terres palestiniennes clairement visible. Il a parlé de sa conviction que l’utilisation du terme « occupation » n’était pas une dénomination adéquate de ce qu’Israël avait toujours planifié pour le peuple palestinien en Cisjordanie et dans son territoire. La colonisation, ce système énorme forçant un peuple à perdre le contrôle sur pratiquement tout ce qui permet à un peuple de survivre avec un sens d’autonomie de soi, est plus proche de ce qui se passe, et qui avait toujours été planifié à se passer. J’étais assise en pensant à la lutte algérienne, la lutte sud-africaine, aux colonisations intériorisées comme dans le système américain d’esclavage, et j’ai vu les limites de notre phrase « Mettez fin à l’occupation ». On peut trouver des fichiers numériques de conférences de Pappe, on peut lire ses livres, le nouveau qui s’appellera  "The Beaucracy of Evil;" (La Beaucratie du mal) ; je veux simplement rapporter ici qu’avec sa force aimable, son érudition prudente, son refus de tomber dans des réponses trop faciles et son engagement à regarder en face les manipulations cruelles de son propre pays, j’ai vu un homme qui, comme son présentateur le Dr. Wolf, l’a dit à la fin, « ce Juif de Haïfa inébranlable et résolu » a éclairé la nuit sombre qui par son appel insistent à tous à faire quelque chose, à comprendre comment des systèmes de colonisation peuvent être démantelés, mais uniquement par une résistance aussi dédiée à la repossession que ceux qui investissent tout en détruisant les vies de l’autre colonisé. Avec ses derniers mots, il a attiré l’attention sur les cartes derrière lui ; oui, il a dit que c’était une seule sorte de cartes mais ce qui n’y est pas dépeint sont les cartes de la résistance palestinienne, les cartes de l’espoir dont beaucoup essaient d’obtenir la réalisation.  Avant cela, il avait expliqué que comme résultat de son livre de 2006, le gouvernement israélien avait fermé les archives, avait refusé de permettre que son livre soit publié en Israël et qu’il travaillait à une traduction en hébreu qu’il allait mettre en ligne, une manière de dessiner de nouvelles cartes. Des archives ouvertes, des documents authentiques non manipulés, la transparence de l’histoire, combien ils sont essentiels pour des processus démocratiques et pourtant une question qu’on se pose rarement quand on évalue des gouvernements, y compris le sien. Si la mémoire nationale est au service de la propagande, dans ce cas, on ne peut hériter que de silences contaminés.  De nouveau dehors dans la nuit, la pluie et le vent, je me suis rendue Swanston street, heureuse de ma canne, ma canne pliable de voyage décorée, ma canne « convenable ». Je m’appuyais contre une lampe de rue tout près du signe de la Tin Alley. Une jeune femme souriante semblant aussi pleine de lumière est venue vers moi et a demandé si j’avais besoin d’aide. Non, j’attends un taxi, mais merci d’être aussi gentille. Une soirée de cadeaux, l’un énorme en envergure, l’autre petit, mais j’ai reçu de la vie dans les deux.

(Once again I cannot download photographs so my words along will have to do, not a bad thing for a writer, I think.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

LHA Dreaming, 1997

As I go through my papers trying to organize the past in some helpful way, I come across moments of attempt that I want to share, not because they are perfect, but because they are markings of a lesbian imagination, a collective imagination.

Project Bulletin #1 from Joan Nestle, Dec 20, 1997
Note: Since I have stopped teaching, I have time for making lists and every time I talk to Morgan or Saskia or Max, we come up with a hundred ideas of things to do with the collection. These are my suggestions; please feel free to take off on them in any way. The more communal,  the better.  Just think, an annotated bibliography could be your first publication.
Project 1—Annotated bibliographies based on ethnicity, based on archives holdings (subject files, books, special collections, photographs, posters, etc)
          African-American Lesbians
         Latina Lesbians
         Jewish Lesbians
         Asian Lesbians
         Italian Lesbians
        Irish Lesbians
       Etc, etc.
Purpose: to make archives materials more accessible both for visitors and out of town researchers; to encourage more donations of material; to help us know what the collection holds. Can be published in newsletter, or on our web site and as a bibliographic pamphlet to be at archives or mailed out.
Example:  attached  [I do not have this attachment in my papers, but if my memory serves me, it was a beginning bibliography on our materials on African-American lesbians]
Project 2—The  Lesbian Century Scroll. For every day in the 20th century, we will find a lesbian event, person, publication, etc. Eventually to be published perhaps with graphics. A communal project for everyone at the  archives including visitors. We can get a large roll of white paper, draw columns for the years and start filling in. Pull a book off the shelf and write in title, author, publisher, year;  go through a journal, etc. I suggest we start with years, than move to months, then days. Our goal could be to be finished by the year 2000. All entries will be entered into the computer as well. I have started the gathering of yearly events.
   Years accounted for: 1900-1903, 1904, 1907-1909, 1911-12, 1914-16, 1918-23, 1926, 1928-1930, 1932-37, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952-58, 1960, 1963-4, 1966-7, 1969
I stopped at the 70s because there was so much—but go ahead! I keep a list in a little black book.
Method: I have been going through books like Jeanette Foster’s Sex Variant Women.  Still to be tackled Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History. I put on a 3x4 note card, the year (month and day if possible), the event (book published, meeting held, law passed, scandal…) and source of information. We can all decide how to do this at the archives.
Purpose: to show the continuity of the lesbian presence, in all its differences, in the 20th century, to get us all involved in mapping our history, to discover interesting connections, to publish in whatever form we deem, to have fun!

In 1996, I had been diagnosed with colon cancer and this thinking of LHA projects helped me endure the treatment. They are still hanging in the air of the possible for others to think about.

To Hold on to Words

I had never realized how hard it would be as I got older to hold on to words, to hold one's presence in the world with any conviction particularly in a world so convulsed by rage and insult. When one's steps become more faltering, the horizon falls to your toes--but I am of the lucky ones, still sitting in a room in a place where I do not cower in fear of so many things. And those I love when they need help, will be able to find it. No armed presence--such a simple element of human safety but so missing from so many lives.

If my words become locked away, find me here or in my books, or at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, if you so desire. See what sense meant to a fem lesbian from the 1950s who traveled beyond her means, who knew the love of women of great heart. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Traveling Woman

    In Venice, resting.

Now our travels are over. Now the old stones and waterways, whether of the upper Thames or the Grand Canal, settle someplace deep inside of me, whether of the ancient Roman columns embedded in a building of the 20th century or the 15th century walls of old Oxford; the Jewish ghettos and expulsions I traced from the grand spires of Magdalene through the Roman once- pestilant ridden alloted land of the Jewish quarter to the Venetian old artisan Jewish ghetto tucked behind the railroad station, in blistering Florentian heat we stood before the house of Dante where I bowed my head to the poet who created a language, in a cooler Roman night I turned in the piazza and saw looming over me the hooded statue of Giodorno Bruno, heretic thinker who saw the possibilities of the vast reaches of space, his body set ablaze by the inquisitors for the travels of his mind. Oh the places we have been, the friends who traveled with us, the waters we crossed--Venice the last port of call, where I leaned against old walls and wondered at the beauty, the weight of marble on the shimmerings of the lagoon.
The weight of the present, a people trying to survive. Italy like Greece, who hold so much of the world's beauty, made fragile by monetary systems that do not stop to look. I am back and I have travelled with all my concerns, with all my knowledge of the privilege of free movement. How grateful I am for the beauty of this world.