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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Enemy We Created

Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn are two young Dutch and Germans respectively who have been living - on and off I assume - for a number of years in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I had first heard about them in a collective article they wrote for Foreign Policy two years ago, since they have published - to my knowledge - a collection of translated Taliban poems and edited the autobiography of Abdul Salam Zaeef a former senior member of the Taliban. Having lived in a working class part of Tunis for the better part of two years and having done an extremely short excursion to war-torn Libya last year, I can hardly contain my respect for the authors in light of the difficulties they must have faced and overcome in their daily - and not so daily - life. Modern day heroes in the daily fight against Orientalism's ugly face to be far too poetic.

Their book An Enemy We Created - The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2001 finds an apt expression in its title. The authors recount the differing histories of the Taliban and al-Qaeda through the years of the Mujhadeen fighting against Soviet occupation with American support, over the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan 'inheriting' al-Qaeda in the process, and finally the post-9/11 story of Western occupation and Taliban insurgency. It is an incredibly detailed - if at times sloppily edited and thus repetitive - account of the ideological, political and war history of two differing currents of modern - today might be more apt a word - political Islamist thought (and action).The reader is left with an appalling feeling of emptiness when faced with the lack of understanding in the West for the actual events on the ground in a country that same West has been occupying for a decade. He (she) also gains a more profound understanding of Islamist thought and especially of Afghan history.

An Enemy We Created easily is one of the most impressive works of intercultural scholarly work I have yet read, relying on Arabic as well as Pashtun sources and interviews, and dealing with a country that even in the 21st century seems to be as far removed from decadent Europe as one could imagine.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Prater Violet

Christopher Isherwood famous mostly for his great Berlin trilogy wrote much more than those three novels of course yet I had hardly ever heard of any of them before. Prater Violet sees the literary Isherwood - the author is the character is not the author? - working on a film set in England under an Austrian director having fled the restrictions imposed upon him in his native country. His story is essentially a portrayal of the clash between a culturally aware and demanding director schlepping in his tow his script-writing underling and the commercially-focused producer. It is a short, enjoyable read, showing Isherwood's forte, human observations and transports a slightly melancholic understanding of humanity that I personally find quite beautiful.

Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert

Walter Benjamin gehört - zumindest mit diesen Erinnerungen - zur Flaneur- bzw Observationsliteratur der 20er und 30er Jahre vergleichbar mit z. B.  Franz Hessel. Benjamin erzählt mit detailliert und romantizierend Anekdoten und Beobachtungen seiner Kindheit in dem Vorkriegsberlin, welches kein Berlin nach 1945 geboren noch kennt. Das macht ihn zwar einerseits faszinierend und eine interessante Quelle, aber andererseits versteht selbst der sich in Berlin auskennende Leser (icke) viele geographischen Andeutungen kaum. Eine gleichermaßen frustrierende wie anregende Lektüre auf eine gewisse Weise.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Notes on Norman Mailer's White Negro

- it is tempting to describe the hipster in psychiatric terms as infantile, but the style of his infantilism is a sign of the times

- the hipster [...] knows that [...] our collective condition is to live with [...] a slow death by conformity with every creative and rebellious instinct stiffled

- one is Hip or one is Square [...] one is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life, or else a Square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed

- it may be fruitful to consider the hipster a philosophical psychopath [...] the psychopath is a rebel without a cause, an agitator without a slogan, a revolutionary without a program: in other words, his rebelliousness is aimed to achieve goals satisfactory to himself alone

- many hipsters are bisexual

- it is not granted to the hipster to grow old gracefully

- if the liberal should prove realistic in his belief that there is peaceful room for every tendency in American life, then Hip would end by being absorbed as a colorful figure in the tapestry

Norman Mailer - The White Negro (1957)