“Arendt’s Insights Echo Around a Troubled World”

by Edward Rothstein, New York Times (October 9, 2006):

The [Hannah] Arendt centennial is now being celebrated with conferences and lectures in locations ranging from Germany to South Korea, from Kosovo to Australia (information online), and one theme keeps recurring. When Arendt analyzed totalitarianism, introduced the idea of the “banality of evil,” emphasized distinctions between private and public life and tried to articulate a new philosophy that would reconsider the nature of thinking and judging after both had become scarce, she could just as well have been speaking to us of our time, addressing contemporary debates.

So it is no accident that in discussing Arendt’s importance more than 30 years after her death, Iraq and terrorism are often mentioned alongside her views of power and violence, statelessness and totalitarianism; her most solemn assessments of the traumatic past become warnings for the imminent future.

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remembering katrina

From A Blog Around the Clock, I learned of the Katrina Blogswarm, and I then found more information at Shakespeare’s Sister and Royally Kranked.

In the days and weeks after Katrina first hit, I did plenty of ranting online at my previous location, so I don’t think I’m going to say much now. Thankfully, major media outlets have been following the situation. Both the New York Times and Times-Picayune have sections devoted to extensive coverage of Katrina’s aftermath. The New Yorker has also published many articles over the last year. [Update 1: The Chronicle of Higher Education has several pieces appearing today.] The short version: things aren’t good. It breaks my heart and angers me that we haven’t made better progress on this.

On Friday I met with some enthusiastic staff and students to discuss a service trip to New Orleans, and it looks like we might be going as soon as Fall Break in October. That gung-ho response, dear reader, is one of many reasons I’m glad to be at this institution.

Update 2: Shakespeare’s Sister has a roundup of the blogswarm.

Update 3: This isn’t exactly Katrina-related, but it’s appropriate: dj BC has created an album full of mashups of the Wu-Tang Clan and dixieland jazz. (Via Boing Boing.)

Update 4: Hub Bub artist in residence Brian Hitselberger was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit:

When I first got here, a lot of people were asking me if my experiences during the storm were going to have an impact on my art. I don’t really know how to answer that question– for me, it’s not as simple as that. I think my experiences during the storm had an impact on the way I think about everything, which in turn, will certainly impact my art work.

Update 5: Brian links to PostKatrinaPortraits.com. Check it out.

Update 6: “The New Orleans Wiki a volunteer-maintained collection of articles about the City of New Orleans. The New Orleans Wiki is also used by neighborhoods and civic organizations as a collaborative authoring tool.”

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don’t look in the bag!!!

It occurs to me, in light of reading Alex Halavais’ persuasive post concerning the war on terror and its beneficiaries, that the whole point of this exercise is, in fact, not to look in the bag. As long as the contents of the bag remain a mystery, then the terror can be maintained and authority is not to be questioned. And if we can turn ordinary things like hair gel, sports drinks, and iPods into terrifying weapons, that’s better still.

Sir, you have to leave your bag in the car!
How come?
Blah blah blah war on terror blah blah blah.
But all I have in here is a water bottle and an iPod.
Aieeeeeee! Run for your lives!

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behold the terrorist

Some may argue that “[t]he ‘terrorism bubble’ has burst,” but let me tell you: the fight is still going strong in Sparkle City.

Monday afternoon, as 4:00 approached, I decided to go see Talladega Nights1. After driving to the closest theater, I bought my ticket (there was a little weirdness at the ticket counter as the semi-comatose teenager kept talking to someone over her shoulder) and walked inside. The manager came up to me immediately and said, “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave your bag2 in your car.”

Me: What? Why?
Manager, as if I’m an idiot: Well, for one thing, after 9/11 we can’t be too careful.
Me, reaching to open my bag: Oh, do you want to check inside?
Manager, as if I’m a pervert: Sir, I’m not interested in your personal things.3
Me, thinking but not saying: Either you are or you aren’t. I’m getting mixed messages here.
Me, very calmly: Can I get my money back?
Manager: Yes
Me, getting my money back: Do you tell women with purses the same thing?
Manager, pausing a weirdly long time, like he’s gonna stare me down, Walker, Texas Ranger style: Sometimes.
Me: I find that hard to believe.

Sure enough, as I left, a high school couple purchased some tickets and made their way inside, only to return shortly so the girl could leave her purse in her car.

My solution? I went to another theater and saw the movie (with my bag in tow), no problem. I ask you, dear reader. W. T. F?

I lived in D.C.4 before, during, and after 9/11, and I took this bag on the Metro all the time, into movie theaters, into the Library of Congress, into the Folger Shakespeare Library (which is a stone’s throw from the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court), into all of the Smithsonians and art museums, and no one ever told me to leave the bag in my car. I’ve taken this bag into movie theaters, on the subway, into museums and other public buildings in New York5 with no hassling from anyone. I’ve taken this bag on the underground, into museums, and other public buildings in London6 with no hassling from anyone. I’ve taken this bag all over Manchester7, with no hassling from anyone. Hell, I took this bag into the Hanoi Hilton last fall with no hassling.

Reader, when a prisoner of war facility in an oppressive, corrupt, communist regime affords people more freedom than a movie theater in small town America, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The security forces in all of these cities may think they know how to handle and prevent terrorism, but apparently this theater manager in Sparkle City knows something they don’t.

Either that, or he was invoking the horrific deaths of over 2,000 people to ensure that no contraband candy was being snuck into his theater. But that couldn’t have been what was going on, because that would just be fucking disgusting.

  1. My review, in a nutshell: Meh.
  2. This would be my brown, nylon, L.L. Bean, over-the-shoulder bookbag that I’ve had since the early ’90s. I would call it a messenger bag, but I doubt messengers would be seen with something so ugly. At the time of the above terrorist intervention, said bag contained my cell phone, my pda, my ipod (i.e. about $500 worth of electronic goods), a few magazines, and a plastic bottle with water in it because it’s about a billion degrees here and I try to stay hydrated. There’s no way I’m leaving all those electronic goodies in my car to be either stolen or baked in the heat.
  3. WTF? Like I’ve got a big dildo in there or something?
  4. You know, where the terrorists have actually attacked. I was watching the news coverage of the WTC attacks when they cut to the Pentagon to report the attack that had just happened about ten miles from my home. It was one of the worst days of my life.
  5. You know, where the terrorists have actually attacked.
  6. You know, where the terrorists have actually attacked.
  7. You know, where the terrorists have actually attacked.
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memory and loss

Litera Scripta Manet (The Written Word Endures)

     -Motto in painting on ceiling at Library of Congress
I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document, or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library or kindle therein any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.

     -The Bodleian Declaration

Oxford University’s Bodleian Library gift shop sells a metal plaque declaring “Litera Scripta Manet,” accompanied by a card that explains the motto is featured at the LoC and that it “perhaps comes from Horace.”

Before you can get a reader’s card at the Bodleian, you must recite and then sign a printed version of the Bodleian Declaration.

The two quotes highlight a paradox in attitudes toward our Western cultural heritage. On the one hand, we believe in the lasting power of the ideas contained in the most valuable documents archived in our libraries. On the other hand, we know that we must remain vigilant to protect the often quite fragile objects upon which the written word is preserved; every time a reader handles a letter, a book, a pamphlet, a will, a map, the object is one (often quite tiny, but sometimes not) step closer to oblivion. Ask any physicist: entropy is unavoidable. Librarians know this, of course, and the special collections in libraries are an attempt to keep the inevitable at bay. They are the place where abstract ideas concerning such things as art, history, and philosophy collide with the reality of the material world.

Every contact leaves a trace, but every work is mortal.

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