Jabotinsky’s Children

jab

Jabotinsky’s Children –
Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism
By Daniel Kupfert Heller
Princeton University Press – £27.95

On a winter evening in 1932, Adolf Gourevitch, a young man from Kiev studying at the Sorbonne, joined Vladimir Jabotinsky and his son, Eri, at a cafe in Paris. As he sat down at the table, Jabotinsky announced that he would devote the evening to composing a new anthem for Betar. Jabotinsky had good reason to create a new hymn for his youth movement. By this point, Betar had more than forty thousand members worldwide and was quickly emerging as one of the most popular Jewish movements in Poland, where some thirty thousand Jews had joined its ranks. ‘The youth movement was also becoming one of the most controversial in the country – its’ rivals accusations that the group’s members were ”Jewish fascists’ who aspired to the same values as antisemites on the European Right only intensified with Betar’s growth. Writing an anthem provided Jabotinsky with an opportunity to offer a clear declaration of his movement’s goals and to finally put these claims to rest. He even promised Gourevitch that the poem would follow a mathematical logic. Jabotisnky wrote the following lines to open his first verse: ”Betar / from a pit of decay and dust / in blood and sweat / a new race will emerge / proud, noble and cruel.”

                                             (‘Obedient Children/Reckless Rebels’)

Reading the above quote from this book’s third chapter, does not only initiate one into thinking what took place in Poland a mere seven years later, but also what took place in the country’s capital Warszawa just last Saturday (November 11th). A day which marked the official celebration of the country’s ninety-ninth year of independence, which saw the best part of 60,000 right-wing protesters – from all over Poland – calling for ”an Islamic Holocaust.”

An ”Islamic Holocaust” no less, from countrymen, who know a thing or two about the meaning of genocide, and who, in their utmost heat of hearts, really ought to know better. The fact that the alternative American Right leader, Richard Spence, cancelled his plans to attend the march because he was deemed too extreme (by the Polish government), might go some way in substantiating a tad of Polish common sense. Although maybe not.

All things told, Jabotinsky’s Children – Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism, underlines the extent to which acute indoctrination is NEVER a good thing.

In and of itself, it has never qualified itself as a constructive mode of pristine behaviour, the absolute flip-side of which is surely evidenced in Poland’s more than brutal, heartbreakingly turbulent past. That Jabotinsky suggested that ”a new race will emerge,” one that was ”proud, noble and cruel,” isn’t that far removed from some of last Saturday’s chants of ”clean blood” and white Europe.”

So in a round-a-bout sort of way, this book really does shine something of an illuminating light on the spectre of ever increasing right-wing fundamentalism throughout Europe and the U.S. The latter especially, where Donald Trump openly promotes separatism and everything that is crass in human nature (a list far too long to mention here).

That Poland served as an inspiration and an incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideas, is herein brought to (unfortunate) bear, in all its myopic eventual mayhem. With reference to the inter-war years, the author Daniel Kupfert Heller writes: ”Poland […] was plagued by political corruption, factionalism, legislative gridlock, and violence. Tensions often ran high between Catholic Poles and the country’s minorities. The deep divisions pitting peasants against urban dwellers, socialists against conservatives, and liberals against radical nationalists only multiplied the staggering number of political parties clamouring for power” (Introduction – ‘Jews and the Right’).

Sound familiar?
One need look no further than current day Venezuela.
Or what took place in Zimbabwe yesterday.
Hell’s teeth, one need look no further than Downing Street.

These 254 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) most definitely shoot from the hip. In so doing, they place particular perspective on the origins of right-wing Zionist beliefs – along with their continuing allure in today’s Israel. As such, Jabotinsky’s Children will undoubtedly trigger much debate, which, to varying degrees, can only be a good thing.

David Marx

 

Advertisements

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East

maggie

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East
By Azriel Bermant
Cambridge University Press – £22.95

Throughout my political life I have usually sought to avoid compromise, because it more often than not turns out to involve an abdication of principle. In international affairs, it is often also symptomatic of muddle and weakness. But over the years I have been forced to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exception. Here a historic compromise is, indeed, necessary.

                                                                                    Margaret Thatcher

It does make one wonder where former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the all round architect of so-called Broken Britain, had the vivacious vim of audacity to think, let alone actually utter the word, ‘compromise.’

She is nevertheless, completely correct to use the word in relation to the appalling, on-going stalemate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although so far as eradicating great swathes of the United Kingdom, by way of the unlawful/soul-destroying Miners Strike of 1984-5 is concerned, she remains the most unscrupulous of political vermin, to have ever traipsed the steps of Downing Street.

Suffice to say, said Miner’s Strike has very little to do with Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, but just as Tony Blair has become increasingly tarnished over his handling of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; for me personally, I cannot help but forever equate Thatcher with said strike and the total, total annihilation of (Britain’s) moral society.

With this in mind, let it be said that there was a most pronounced prism of cynicism which needed to be reigned in as I made my way through these twelve chapters of predominantly linear, literary diplomacy. Twelve chapters of coherent and very considered analysis of that which the title purports: an examination of the ‘Iron Lady’s Middle East policy throughout her tenure in office.

Something which, all things considered – her relationship with America and Ronald Reagan especially – wasn’t always quite as verbatim as expected. Her London constituency of Finchley may well have been predominantly Jewish, but Thatcher wasn’t always in agreement with Reagan’s foreign policy towards Israel.

A questionable modus operandi that Azriel Bermant touches on on numerous occasions throughout these 217 pages (excluding Figures, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index), not least in the book’s Introduction itself: ”Thatcher was instinctively sympathetic towards Israel, and she did attempt briefly to counter the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) position on the Middle East. However, there were also numerous occasions when she took the lead in supporting policies that caused considerable difficulties for the Israeli political leadership […]. This book therefore, challenges the exaggerated emphasis that has been placed on the differences between the FCO and 10 Downing Street on Middle East policy, and also questions the impact of partisan pressures on Thatcher’s policy towards the conflict.”

With an inexorable spotlight on her rather brazen approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book fundamentally questions claims that Thatcher sought to counter Foreign Office policy, by maintaining she was in (relative) close agreement with Whitehall on the unsurprisingly, on-going dissension.

As such, a little dry perhaps, but on the whole, Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is concise and very much to the point.

David Marx

The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries

hand

The Princeton Handbook of World of Poetries
By Roland Greene and Stephen Cushman
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Where to literally begin with regards reviewing this veritable tomb of a reference book, is anyone’s guess. With over a million words and more than one thousand entries, this latest edition of The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries may well evolve into becoming the most important reference book in anyone’s library; serious writers, novelists, short story tellers and those with a penchant for world language and poetry in particular.

Replete with a comprehensive synthesis of fully explained, requisite biographies and movements – and I’m not just talking the Confessional Poetry of say the ever great Allen Ginsberg, whose naked brilliance in Howl ‘’I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn,looking for an angry fix’’ (page 580); but also countless other explanations, such as the historical background behind that of a more dense approach like French Prosody, which, ‘’from the 16th to the 19th c., certain poets (i.e. the vers measures a l’antique) based on differences in syllabic duration […] failed because this system was too complicated and too unlike the established one (pages 203 – 206).

As a result, I’m hard pressed to think of anything remotely comparative; which, in and of itself, goes some way in partially substantiating why I wholeheartedly agree with the ringing endorsement of Classical Journal – who refer to these 693 pages as ‘’a reference work of distinction which all who work in the field of literary studies will find extremely useful if not, indeed, indispensable.’’

From the very first entry of African Poetry (‘’With the end of the colonial period and the advance of literacy and higher education in Africa came a rapid efflorescence of Af. poetry written in Eng […] ’’) to the very last entry of Zulu Poetry (which, apart from being broken down into the three sections of Verse Structure, Early Zulu Poets and Post-Apartheid Era; informs us that: ‘’Zulu traditional poems, esp. praise poems, are composed in lines that are based on the stresses resulting from the meaning of the line and its natural and punctuated pauses. Intonation is important in Zulu praise poems because Zulu is a tonal lang., like most Af. Langs., and it is difficult to apply to Eng.’’); there’s a regal realisation, along with a quintessential understanding, that we are in good, reliable and erudite hands.

With more than 165 authoritative entries, which expand upon recent developments in poetries (including cognitive poetics, electronic poetry and poetry slams) an array of movements (everything from Sumerian to Sanskrit to Slavic)) and related topics; this mighty reference book also contains an exceedingly broad international coverage – including articles on the poetries of more than one hundred and ten nations, languages and regions (such as English, Scottish, Welsh, Celtic and Cornish poetry).

Furthermore, there is expanded upon coverage of the poetry from non-Western, developing worlds, which, apart from the very brief example given above, includes further African poetry, along with numerous works from Latin America, East and South Asia as well as Eastern European nations.

All, or at least most of which, is aligned with considerable cross-referencing. The latter of which is particularly pertinent in relation to the numerous updated biographies.

Ever since its first publication, The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries has oft been referred to as the ultimate, authoritative reference with regards the study of world poetry. With its menagerie of terms, concepts, schools, movements and international tradition(s), contained herein is an almost one-of-kind reference book.

It’s so good – it makes for interesting and stimulating reading in its own right; and there really aren’t many reference books one can say that about!

David Marx

Just Around Midnight

midn

Just Around Midnight –
Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
By Jack Hamilton
Harvard University Press – £23.95

     Hendrix’s race produced a crisis in popular-music discourse. He presented a mix of stereotype and subversion, seemingly playing to racist cliches of black menace and sexuality while performing music that contradicted contemporary expectations of black sound. One of the most common accusations lobbed at Hendrix in this period was that of racial inauthenticity, or even race treachery. After Monterey a young Robert Christagau wrote a scathing appraisal of Hendrix’s performance in the pages of Esquire, describing Hendrix as ”terrible” and accusing him of being ”just an Uncle Tom” who ”had tailored a caricature to [the audience’s] mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade.”

    In early 1968 the Washington Post wrote that ”Jimi Hendrix is the P. T. Barnum of rock. He assesses, and fills, the needs of his crowd. His blackness is an Uncle Tom blackness.” The article also noted that ”it is entirely necessary, in fact, that Hendrix is a Negro. His music is Chuck Berry filtered through the Beatles and the West Coast electronic freak-out, back through a black man to a 99 per cent white audience,” a sentiment conveyed more caustically by Richard Goldstein, who remarked in his own review of Hendrix’s Monterey performance: ”his major asset seems to be his hue.” Rolling Stone magazine eschewed the Uncle Tom epithet but wondered if Hendrix was simply a ”psychedelic superspade.” Never one to be outdone, in a New York magazine article entitled ”SuperSpade Raises Atlantis,” Albert Goldman mused on what he saw as Hendrix’s preference of ”playing to almost exclusively white audiences” and”consorting with white women” and concluded that ”Hendrix’s blackness is only skin deep.”

                                                            (‘House Burning Down –
                                                            Race, Writing, and Jimi Hendrix’s War’)

Looking back to the time when music journalism and rock criticism in general came into its own around the mid to late sixties, it’s surprisingly shocking, if not down right disturbing, to comprehend the degree to which certain writers were both degrading and openly racist toward black American artists.

Jimi Hendrix (and Motown’s Berry Gordy) in particular, as the above opening quotes from this book’s eye-opening fifth chapter more than sadly illuminates. That the writers themselves (Robert Christgau, Richard Goldstein and Albert Goldman) are white, should come as no surprise; although what is astounding, is the fact that said publications would openly be seen to print such abominable garbage.

Who on earth was/is Christagau to talk of ‘caricature’ and WRONGLY accuse Hendrix of being ”just an Uncle Tom?” As for the appalling Albert Goldman – he who was ”never one to be outdone”- well I’m not even going to bother wasting my or your time.

That said, Just Around Midnight – Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination is an unquestionably marvellous and rather brilliant book. Apart from being exceedingly well-written, it’s audacious and courageous, not to mention racially charged.

Making it all the more important.

Important, in that it places Jack Hamilton’s work amid so much of the equally charged trajectory of the American psyche into current, questionable perspective. An altogether torrid state of affairs admittedly, but as Emily Lordi of the University of Massachusetts has since said of these 276 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index): ”As musically detailed as it is theoretically expansive, Just Around Midnight reveals that popular music of the 1960s was defined by more vibrant inter-racial collaborations and more violent anti-black erasures than we could have imagined. This is a beautifully written and provocatively argued work of intellect, heart, and soul.”

I couldn’t agree more.
A terrific, all round astonishing and revalatory read.

David Marx

The Good Occupation

occupation

The Good Occupation –
American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace
By Susan L. Carruthers
Harvard University Press – £22.95

No wonder, then, that uniformed Americans sometimes insisted that ”winning the peace” was harder than winning the war. Postwar reconstruction required greater finesse than the wartime work of destruction. Governing took more skill, patience, and insight than did killing. It was tougher, many officers averred, to discipline one’s emotions in peacetime than to keep the enemy in one’s sights in combat; harder to keep hatred properly directed, and harder to know whom to trust. Telling who was on which side was no easy business when individual identities, like uniforms, were so readily switched in the chaotic aftermath of war […].

                                                                                 (The Troublesome ”O Word”’)

Apart from the inevitable turmoil, grief and all round chaos, one can only imagine the logistical nightmare that must have beset the American forces immediately after the Second World War.

By any of today’s standards, not to mention the then potential for complete and completely out-of-control mayhem, it ought hardly be surprising that The Good Occupation – American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace makes for fascinating, although not particularly coruscating reading.

Each of its eight chapters illuminates the vast interior life of the U.S. occupiers throughout both Europe and Asia. An occupation, which in turn, invariably came to highlight ”the way military governance came to be imagined as a form of altruism” (Mary L Dudziak, author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences).

Indeed, a tiny tip of the literary iceberg is ever so marginally brought to bear in this book’s fifth chapter ‘Displaced and Displeased Persons,’ where authoress, Susan L. Carruthers, authoritatively writes: ”In Japan and Germany, U.S. Occupation authorities hastily rearmed the police forces of their former foes, in large part to tackle looting and clandestine trade by, or ascribed to, DPs (Displaced Persons) or minority populations. In both countries, American and local officials were united in their growing concern over black market activity. And those same ”outgroups” were vilified as the major participants in illicit economic trade, although black market activity was pervasive – among occupiers, occupied, and displaced alike.”

What an absolutely shocking scenario, albeit an utter understandable one.

That ”occupiers, occupied, and displaced alike” were responsible for (perhaps) inadvertently creating the predominantly economic chaos in the first place – as well as possibly prolonging it – can, to a great degree, surely be placed upon the shoulders of brute, human nature?

In the book’s penultimate chapter, ‘Getting without Spending,’ and in direct relation to Europe, such behaviour which faced the American forces is once again brought to bear, when Carruthers bequeaths the reader with the following: ”Popular culture reinforced this impression of tawdriness, conjuring a twilight zone of shadowy transactions in fittingly monochromatic tones. The black-market milieu called for innumerable shades of grey, and racketeering formed a staple fixture of noirish representation of occupied Europe […].”

To the point and very concisely written, The Good Occupation is as revelatory as it is informative. The author has done exceptionally well to convey such a subject as that drenched within the quintessential quagmire of such human frailty.

David Marx

The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and The City

images

The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and The City
Edited by Jeremy Tambling
Palgrave Macmillan – £29.80

     So let us not place any particular value on the city’s name. Like all big cities it was made up of irregularity, change, forward spurts, failures to keep step, collisions of objects and interests, punctuated by unfathomable silences; made up of pathways and untrodden ways, of one great rhythmic beat as well as the chronic discord and mutual displacement of all its contending rhythms.

     Robert Musil
     The Man Without Qualities

     […] sometimes, in his room or on the pavement, the world seemed to him a strange labyrinth even when the streets were straight and the walls were square; a chaos which made him feel that something in him should be able to understand it, divide it, focus it.

     Richard Wright
     Native Son

    The principal figures were two black men. One of them, of medium height, had his hands tied, his eyes cast down, bronze-coloured skin, and a rope tied around his neck. The end of the rope was in the hands of another black man. This one was looking straight ahead, and his colour was uniformly jet black. He was bearing the curiosity of the crowd with pose. When the paper had been read the procession continued on along the Rua dos Ourives. It was coming from jail…

     Machado de Assis
     Quincas Borba

It’s only when you read a colossal and cultured, well researched and undeniably informative book such as this, that you realise just how great (certain) cities are. They’re almost living things. They live and breath and soar and deny and are so many things to so many people. What was it Noel Coward once said: ”I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings the lower the morals.”

Indeed, morality and the city, don’t necessarily make for the of best bed fellows. Whereas literature and the city, could be considered something of a svelte symposium; the sort of which, many would profess to having been made in (the city of ) heaven itself. Wherever that is? Which is where this tumultuous tomb of literary prowess comes unto its own.

Clocking in at 798 pages (excluding Volume Editor’s Introduction and Acknowledgements, Further Reading, Author Index, Index of Cities, Countries, Places) this outrageously in depth analysis on the subject of literature and cities, is as quintessentially complex as it is emphatically considered – which could well be a first.
And if not a first, then it really is an outstanding second.

As the above opening three quotes (on the cities of Vienna, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro) perhaps exemplify, The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and The City is a masterful collection of exactly what it says on the cover – from all around the world.

Divided into seven prime parts (‘The City on Theory,’ ‘European Cities,’ ‘North American Cities,’ ‘Latin American Cities,’ ‘African Cities,’ ‘Asian Cities’ and ‘Urban Themes’), the book fundamentally addresses what effect on literature the various great cities around the world have (intrinsically) had. While in some instances – Dublin, Paris and New York for instance – the other way around: what effect on cities literature has had. For as Scott McCracken, Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at Queen Mary University of London has written: ”The relationship between literature and the city is a Gordian knot, that becomes more tangled the more the critic tries to unpick it. Rather than slicing through it, this ambitious collection of essays instead catalogues its dimensions, ranging far beyond the familiar studies of European and American cities into Latin America, Africa, and Asia. With essays on Brasilia, Lagos, Beirut, and Tokyo, as well as Lisbon and Vienna, the result is a fascinating, almost encyclopedic, account of urban literature on a scale that no one else has yet attempted.”

The fact that it hasn’t really been attempted (that I know of), is what initially makes this book so attractive to begin with; as rather than having to assimilate and collate all the varying information on cities and literature – a veritable nightmare surely? – it’s all here. In one book.

And if not all, then a hell of a lot; much of which is derived from that of a fascinating premise: ”Where writing has aimed at forging a national unity (the ‘imagined community’), the city has often been seen as dysfunctional to that, because it either challenges a national consensus or is felt to be in the hands of western investors, who treat city and country as a cash cow and ignore its specificities. Some cities have not produced writing which has been translated, or gone beyond its immediate circumstances, perhaps out of the sense that ‘literature’ itself is an imperial conception, conferring on some, but not all, exploitative culture capital.”

This is in itself, an overtly interesting premise from which one could fully embark on an entirely new form of investigation: the idea that literature is an imperial concept. As literature is (also) clearly based on the assumption that we can all read and write; which, during the varying times of discovery, wasn’t always the case.
Still isn’t.

Herein lies just one aspect of what accounts for The Palgrave Handbook of Literature and The City being such a wide, inspired and at times, very varied read. That the contributors themselves stem from an assortment of backgrounds, clearly has some bearing as to why such is the case.

That said, there is a rich tapestry of depth running throughout this stunning book, that, for anyone remotely interested in literature and/or cities, comes both highly and regally recommended.

David Marx

Brittany

Brittany

Brittany
DK Eyewitness Travel – £13.99

With its eventful history, contrasting landscapes, diverse economy and exceptionally rich cultural heritage, Brittany is a multifaceted region. While Breton traditions are very much alive, and while the region is famous for its menhirs, Brittany has also embraced the technological revolutions of the modern age. It is, for example, a major centre of the electronics industry.

                                                                                (‘A Portrait of Brittany’)

I’ve always been a great fan of the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel books; primarily because you always know where you are with them – which might be because of the uniformity of its guides lay-out.

They always begin with a ‘How to use this guide’ section, which essentially consists of a brief description of what lies within: Introduction, Regional Map, Detailed Information on each sight, Major Towns, Street by Street Map(s) and naturally, a section on all the Top Sights.

So far as Brittany is concerned, its 271 pages (excluding General Index, Acknowledgements and a Phrase Book) have been divided into Region by Region – six colour-coded areas for reference (Ille-Et-Vilaine, Cotes D’Armor, Northern Finistere, Southern Finistere, Morbihan and Loire-Atlantique); whereby each chapter opens with an introduction to its respective area, immediately followed by a regional map showing the most interesting towns, villages and places to visit.

As such, navigating one’s way around the chapters and the book in general, is made simple by a numbering system used throughout.

Suffice to say, places of special interest are covered in more detail which may well traverse a few pages. A fine example being the Parlement de Bretagne in the region’s capital of Rennes: ”The Breton parliament, dating from 1618-55, is a major landmark […]. Salomon de Brosse, the architect of the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, designed the facade in the Italian style. The interior courtyard, by contrast, is built in brick and stone in the French style. The interior decoration of the building emphasizes the hallowed importance of Brittany’s independent political power: the sumptuous Salle des Pas-Perdus, with the coat of arms of Brittany and France, and the ceiling of the Grand’Chambre, designed by Louis XIV’s foremost painter, amply express this […].”

All supplemented with colour photographs, illustrations, cutaways, floor-plans, not to mention a cross section layout of architectural gems – such as that just mentioned above – and a visitor’s checklist (phone numbers, addresses, email information etc), Brittany is a truly terrific guide book. As stated in The Independent: ”No other guide whets your appetite quite like this one.”

Indeed – it already proved itself invaluable on our last visit to the region in October, and will most definitely be one of the first items to be packed on our next visit in December.

David Marx