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Thursday, July 12, 2012

For What It's Worth

Yesterday the Axe fell on the novel, and how to be a competent reader. Today it falls on Obsolescence. Though every place remembers, not every person seems to matter.

How do we attempt a dialogue where no voice is done the 'slightest violence'?

I write about us those who are loathed and detested. I have a responsibility, K'é, to support my relatives; I live inside it.

While researching obsolescence I wrote to the archivist at Yad Vashem to inquire about their database. The frozen sea presents dangers I am well aware of. Losing your way is one. Drowning, another. My search for depth forces me to attend to connection. Often we don't recognize the scope and manner of our shared experiences and shared relations. I was afraid of focusing attention on the Vad Vashem memorial without fully understanding their politics. Natalie Goldberg introduced me to the memorial as she was Writing Down the Bones. I'm obsessed with the unremembered—we do more than forget them, we throw them into a pile we decide is, for some reason, beyond our scope, irrelevant or impossible.

Clearly I am a believer who does not believe everything.

"The 'enemy,' whoever they may be, are surely somehow in us all as well as out there, and whatever literal propositions they may want to offer us about our lives would not be flatly dismissed but rather heard and incorporated."
Wayne C. Booth, introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin's Problem of Dostoevsky's Poetics

We are many. Those people who have survived extermination. Those who have walked long walks to death camps. Those who had their fields scorched and burned, and their livestock slaughtered. Those who have survived deliberate and strategic starvation. We are among them. They are us: ancestors and living. I see their faces in the mirror. I see them in Egun. I see them when I walk down to Sixth Street and Market. Yet so many peoples cannot see; they refuse vision. I am deeply pained by the inability we have to recognize each other. I have felt this pain since I was young and living with domestic and sexual violence. One thing, then, was clear to me. Everything was happening, right there, in the open. It was the people who refused to see it.

Recognition takes vision and strength. You cannot recognize while speaking from wounds. You must breathe. Vision requires the perspective provided by breath.

The reply I received from Zvi Berheardt, the Reference and Information Services representative of Yad Vashem was deeply disappointing. "Yad Vashem defines the Shoah as relating only to those the Nazis saw as Jews." While it does continue, "This does not mean, in any way, that we denigrate the many other victims of Nazism." with a reference link to their working definition of The Hololcaust. I still felt denigrated. I considered my next step carefully. My entire project is about connection. I'm taken by the horrors of the second world war largely because they so completely illuminate the consequence of hate and the failure of humanity.

"No one knew what to do with the life that had been saved." (Appelfeld, Beyond Despair)

Throughout time people have been faced with the opportunity to survive and the question of what shape life might take. I read Aharon Appelfeld and David Grossman in an effort to see. What choice can be made the morning after?

"In dialogue, annihilation of the opponent also annihilates the very dialogic sphere in which discourse lives. . .this sphere is very fragile and easily destroyed (the slightest violence is sufficient, the slightest reference to authority. . ." (M. Bakhtin)

Authority: 1. a) the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action or make final decisions b) the position of one having such power 3. power or influence resulting from knowledge

I am not looking for authority. Authority says I do not exist.

If we move beyond "mostly sayin', 'hooray for our side'" we might see something in ourselves, something we need as we face the choices we must make, every day, every one.

The response from Yad Vashem is important. I see us in them. I see their choices. I measure our choices by the light and shadow they cast. Shik'éí, my relatives, immediate relatives, clans: the Navajo, Pueblo, Mexican, Congolese and African American. I not only ask who can we be, but who do we want to become?

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.