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Elaine Mokhtefi: Panthers in Algiers

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It was June. I remember it very clearly. I can see myself walking down a side street between the Casbah and the European sector of Algiers towards the Victoria, a small, third-rate hotel. I climbed four flights of stairs and knocked. The door opened and there was Eldridge Cleaver, and beyond him, flat out on the bed, his wife, Kathleen, eight months pregnant. The sense of awe I felt that day never left me. The shortcomings of the Black Panther Party are clear enough in retrospect, but they took the battle to the streets, demanded justice and were prepared to bear arms to protect their community.
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koranteng
2 days ago
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The pre-history of the Friedman unit

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Those of us who blogged through the Iraq War will of course remember the Friedman unit, a measurement of time defined as how long it will take until things are OK in Iraq, conventionally equal to six months, named for Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman of the New York Times. But I didn’t realise the unit has a prior history. Not until I read Waugh in Abyssinia, that is.

OK so; this is the book Evelyn Waugh wrote about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, that would become the source for his novel Scoop!. It’s a very strange book. Waugh divides it into three parts, and there’s no reason not to tackle it in the same way. The first third is a potted history of imperialism in the Horn of Africa, startlingly radical (he basically adopts a Hobson/Lenin economic-determinist explanation) and very critical of the British (mostly for hypocrisy). His account of the complicated way in which Ethiopia was both a target of imperialism and an expansionist empire itself, and his insistence on the transformative importance of the League of Nations’ international recognition of the country, is great.

The second contains Waugh’s narrative of his travels and the war. This is basically why the book is still read – it’s classic impressionistic travel writing, with good jokes about reporters prefiguring Scoop, fine prose, and a subtle account of a pre-modern society trying to be modern.

What he’s going on about here is one of the key forms of the state in the 20th century – the development dictatorship. Waugh is very good on the conflicts inherent in this, the contract-hunting chancers and weirdos drawn to it, and the ambivalence of the whole project. Ambivalence about modernity is the core theme of his work, and development dictatorship gave him enormous scope to, ah, develop it. One of the key things you have to grasp about him is that although his self-presentation in his old age was as someone who’d been a deep reactionary all along, his books aren’t often like that. He plays up the old git shtick, and then leaps on a train de luxe to the front line. The contradiction is where the art gets in, and why the journey to Ethiopia inspired him.

The third section, though, is completely weird. Waugh went back to Ethiopia after the Italians occupied it, and at this point his scepticism seems to have completely failed him. He kicks off mocking journalists in Djibouti who tell him the war isn’t over and guerrillas are everywhere, warms up by insulting British MPs who make the mistake of caring what happened to the Ethiopians, and travels up the line to Addis Ababa. On the way he observes that every bridge, tunnel, and choke point is heavily guarded by tired, nervous Italian soldiers. No matter.

He goes to see the Italian governor, who has installed himself in the emperor’s palace, surrounded by the few sticks of dictator chic the looters didn’t steal or torch. Six months, they agree. He bashes “liberals” some more. Guerrillas break into the city centre in company size, exactly as the guy he was shitposting says, and he gets shot at. Six months, he says, and everything will be OK. Not just the unit size, or the security situation, but the characteristic architecture and interior design of the Friedman unit has been defined. He has another dig at a British MP for believing that the Ethiopian resistance government still exists. They’ll be put in the bag, in six months. Rather as the Americans never did get Saddam’s appointed deputy, the Italians never did catch it.

He completely falls head over heels in love with the Italian contractors who are building a new road as a counterinsurgency project (it’s going to be done in six months), and announces that the Ethiopians never bothered to build any roads, forgetting that he already praised one of theirs a hundred and fifty pages back. It’s a header right into the deep end of the trahison des clercs.

And we probably better talk about the racism. At this period of his career Waugh has a weird habit where he’s quite capable of being respectful of foreigners’ institutions, character, or appearance…and then he throws in a massive, jarring insult. It’s never integral to his point, but rather chucked in as a style statement, a sort of sprezzatura of turds. This always makes him sound weirdly American, because the style he adopts and the choice of epithets come from there. Rather than the kind of patronising imperial condescension you expect, you get a shot of the Klan, of burning crosses on suburban lawns, corpses towed behind Ford V-8s. Tellingly, he kids himself the Italian conquerors are like…the pioneers of the American West.

The point would be made to him in due course. By the time he came to write the Sword of Honour trilogy, he’s cut it out. It took the second world war to do that. But what interests me is that he didn’t start off writing like that. He got it from somewhere, but where?

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koranteng
5 days ago
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Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah – hard truth is hidden at home

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Kamila Shamsie in The Guardian:

TravelThe Booker-shortlisted novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah gives us a story with a secret at its core – and yet, there is nothing manipulative about the withholding of the truth, and no sense that the author is relying on a breadcrumb trail of clues to keep us reading. Instead, and more satisfyingly, he is writing about the cost of secrets that are based on imbalances of power – imbalances of class, gender and love. The “secret” at the start of the book seems nothing more than a domestic falling-out. Salim is seven, in 1970s Zanzibar, when his father abandons the house; at first his mother says he has only gone away for a few days. Soon it becomes clear that he has moved out and is renting a room in another part of town. At first she delivers him a basket of food every day, then she asks Salim to take over the duty. Neither parent ever speaks of the reason for their discord. The novel is divided into three parts. The first gives us Salim’s life in Zanzibar, growing up in a happy family that bafflingly becomes broken. Eventually certain truths about his mother’s life become distressingly clear to him, but he manages only a half-conversation about it with her and becomes increasingly isolated within his own anger and confusion. When his uncle Amir offers him the opportunity to move to London as a student, it seems like an escape.

The second part is Salim’s life in the UK, when he begins to understand more of what happened between his parents, and also discovers the sadness and dislocation of being away from home. He doesn’t know how to belong in the strange place in which he has found himself but feels increasingly cut off from the world he’s left behind. This is not a new subject for novelists – Gurnah himself has written about exile in his sixth novel By the Sea – but that does nothing to take away from its emotional strength. In By the Sea, the exiled figure was an asylum seeker, facing all the difficulties that such a position brings. Salim is in a far more privileged position – his education leads to employment and there is no fear of deportation or penury. His sorrows come from having two countries and no home; he also feels the awful weight of knowing he has cast himself out of his place of birth because something unbearable has happened that no one knows how to confront. The UK does, in time, become a kind of home with friends and lovers. But Salim never quite manages to follow his father’s advice: “As you travel keep your ear close to your heart.”

More here.

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koranteng
7 days ago
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Flore Hazoumé : Je te le devais bien

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Je te le devais bien, roman de Flore Hazoumé
J’aime le répéter, Flore Hazoumé a produit toute son oeuvre littéraire depuis Abidjan en Côte d’Ivoire. Dans l’inconscient collectif francophone du Sud, un texte, une production littéraire doit forcément être marqué du sceau de l’édition et des circuits de distribution du livre en France...


Il y a une explication à cela. Structurellement, les maisons d’édition locales africaines manquent cruellement de moyens et, dans une moindre mesure, de rigueur pour accompagner l’enfantement d’un projet littéraire. Cela se ressent donc souvent dans la qualité des oeuvres littéraires et naturellement biaise les discours que véhiculent la production littéraire africaine dans son ensemble.

En ayant précisé ce point, on peut observer des oasis dans le désert aride du monde du livre en Afrique francophone. L'éditeur Les classiques ivoiriens,  travaille à la promotion de plumes authentiques comme Mahmoud Soumaré ou Flore Hazoumé. Ces expériences denses promettent l’émergence de nouveaux auteurs avec des textes que l’on espère lire très prochainement.
Flore Hazoumé écrit un texte magnifique sur l’histoire familiale des Hazoumé. Fille d’un intellectuel béninois basé au Congo, la violence politique qui s'invite aux lueurs des indépendances va remettre en cause le socle stable d’une famille. Les Trois Glorieuses vont maintenir cet homme loin du pays et de sa famille. Flore Hazoumé a pris le temps de recueillir le témoignage de sa mère sur ces épisodes qui remontent à sa tendre enfance et pour produire ce récit touchant sur le parcours d’une femme que le destin n’aura pas épargné. Paul Hazoumé réussit à exfiltrer sa famille du Congo pour la France. Son épouse est analphabète et ne maîtrise pas la langue de cette terre d’accueil où elle doit élever ses enfants en l’absence d’un mari aimant, secret en constant déplacement.




Le face à face entre la mère et la fille est remarquable.
Il permet de revisiter ensemble, toutes les deux, ces moments douloureux et de mieux mettre en exergue

Flore Hazoumé, écrivaine ivoirienne
Flore Hazoumé - DR Gangoueus
le combat d’une femme seule à une époque où l’immigration colorée ne court par les rues de France. Ce récit nous donne d’entrer dans ces familles traitées avec mépris par les vainqueurs pour ne pas dire les putschistes de la première heure. Spleen, dépression, rejet, incompréhension, un témoignage étonnant d’une femme au foyer qui nous conte une histoire congolaise différente et évoque une difficulté de trouver une place dans un autre pays. Flore Hazoumé, le devait bien à sa mère dit-elle. Un événement dans le livre explique cette phrase magnifique qui traduit la reconnaissance et une forme de culpabilité, mais qui est avant tout l'hommage que nous devons à nos parents.

Extrait : 
 « Après avoir délégué la surveillance des plus petits à sa grande fille, la mère s’allongea sur le lit. Elle ferma les yeux. Elle avait du mal à calmer le rythme saccadé de son coeur . Une angoisse oppressait son être. Ce n’était pas forcément la rencontre avec des mondes inconnus, avec cet avenir incertain qui brisait son coeur. Ce qui lui semblait insoutenable, révoltant et qui lui faisait battre la chamade, c’était l’irruption d’un monde extérieur dans sa vie, l’intrusion de la violence des hommes et de leur politique dans sa vie. Elle a rencontré un homme. Elle l’a aimé. Il l’a aimée également et elle l’a suivi. »
 P.39 Je te le devais bien. Editions Classiques ivoiriens

Flore Hazoumé, Je te le devais bien
Editions Les classiques ivoiriens, première parution en 2012


Trois glorieuses : Mouvement insurrectionnel et syndical initié le 13, 14 et 15 Août 1963 ayant conduit à la chute de l'Abbé Fulbert Youlou, premier chef d'état de la république du Congo.
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koranteng
11 days ago
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The Autocrat’s Language

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Donald Trump has an instinct for doing violence to language. Using words to lie destroys language. Using words to cover up lies, however subtly, destroys language. Validating incomprehensible drivel with polite reaction also destroys language. This isn’t merely a question of the prestige of the writing art or the credibility of the journalistic trade: it is about the basic survival of the public sphere.
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koranteng
12 days ago
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Priming the pump: a cartoon history

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As Mark Liberman noted, Donald Trump seemed to imply in his recent interview with The Economist that he coined the phrase “priming the pump,” or at least the financial use of it: “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.” Was this just some sort of peculiar joke, especially considering that Trump himself has used the phrase several times in the past? We may never know, but I thought it would be worth delving into the history of “priming the pump” in a way that even our reading-averse president might appreciate: through cartoons. The financial metaphor of “priming the pump” was frequently depicted by editorial cartoonists in the 1920s and ’30s, so much so that it became something of a visual cliché.

While the Great Depression was responsible for most of the early pump-priming imagery, I actually found examples going back to 1921. As I posted on Twitter yesterday, an editorial cartoon by Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling appeared in the New York Tribune on Jan. 31, 1921 (republished the next day by the Washington Herald), under the headline, “There’s Nothing Revolutionary About Priming a Pump to Get the Water Started.” In it, “credit extension” is being used to prime the pump, bringing water from Europe through European trade channels to quench U.S. industries, portrayed as thirsty cattle.

From the same year, I found an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times (Oct. 6, 1921) for the National Bank of Commerce in Saint Louis, in which a cartoon representation of pump-priming is accompanied by text explaining how the bank believes in “priming the pump of American business.”

But it wasn’t until the 1930s that political cartoonists really started priming the “prime the pump” pump. Ding Darling returned to the theme in a cartoon for the New York Herald Tribune on Apr. 8, 1930, under the headline “Priming the Old Pump.” Here, the pump is “U.S. business,” and it is being primed by “millions for public construction.” Herbert Hoover and Uncle Sam are working the pump, with Congress helping out. In a bit of wishful thinking, “employment” is gushing out of the pump to U.S. industries. (Darling was a Hoover Republican.)

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, he became the new pump-primer for cartoonists. A cartoon dated to 1933 (titled “What We Need is a New Pump”) shows F.D.R. working the “New Deal pump,” but the pump is ineffective — despite the poor taxpayer supplying billions of dollars — due to leaky pipes.

An Oct. 10, 1934 cartoon in the New York Herald Tribune by Edward Scott “Ted” Brown was headlined, “Some Pumps Never Need Priming.” Here the “bureaucracy pumping crew” is pumping cash (through pipes labeled “extravagance” and “gov’t spending”) with the cash gushing out of the pumps in the form of “gov’t waste.”

Next comes a cartoon from Sept. 27, 1936, republished by the New York Herald Tribune from the Kansas City Star. This one is titled “One Pump That Didn’t Prime,” and it depicts F.D.R.’s relief adminstrator Harry Hopkins, helped by Democratic National Committee chairman James Farley, frantically trying to prime the pump to get federal funds from Washington to Maine. Farley holds buckets labeled “anticipated votes,” but Maine would end up supporting F.D.R.’s opponent Alf Landon in the 1936 election. (Only Vermont joined Maine in voting for Landon, so the old political saying “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” was changed to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”)

The next year, Harry E. Homan, a political cartoonist for United Features Syndicate, published a cartoon headlined, “More Priming for the Pump!” (I’ve reproduced the cartoon as it appeared in the Trenton Evening Times, Oct. 15, 1937.) F.D.R. is back at the “business” pump, with Congress helping out, bringing water in a kettle labeled “special session.” (F.D.R. failed to pass labor legislation in a special Congressional session that he called in Nov. 1937.)

Finally, Ding Darley once again returned to the “prime the pump” theme in an editorial cartoon appearing in the New York Herald Tribune on Apr. 21, 1938. Titled “Going to Prime the Pump Again,” the cartoon shows a dumpy figure labeled “most wasteful bureaucracy in the world,” carrying leaky buckets representing $4 billion in spending, headed toward the run-down “industrial pump.” Darley, always a critic of the New Deal, reflected public weariness with the Democrats’ promises that the Great Depression would soon be over. (New Deal Democrats fared poorly in the 1938 midterm elections.) The Depression wouldn’t truly end until World War II brought full employment, and no more pump-priming was needed.

[Update: Peter Reitan (aka Peter Jensen Brown) traces the origins of the “prime the pump” financial metaphor back to an item that circulated in newspapers in 1899. Read all about it on the Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog.]

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koranteng
13 days ago
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