Footnote: justice for a judgeI was glad to see this note in yesterday's NYT, from The Hague: "The International Criminal Court confirmed that Luis Moreno Ocampo, an Argentine lawyer, has been selected as the first chief prosecutor of the new permanent war crimes court." I met him in 1989, it must have been, when I was in Buenos Aires researching my book on Argentina. Moreno was then assistant to Julio C�sar Strassera, the prosecutor of Gen. Jorge Videla and the other monsters who had directed Argentina's 7-year "dirty war." Both men -- Strassera and the much younger Moreno -- were very brave; the military gangs, specialists in "disappearing" people, were still very active. Warm congratulations to Dr. Moreno Ocampo.
My novel: readings and misreadingsI've had good response from agents to my queries regarding A Gift for the Sultan, my novel about the siege of Constantinople in 1402. However, I was a little perplexed by comments from one agent who read almost the entire text (mysteriously, the last 15 pages were missing from her copy, but she has since received them). She seemed to like it, but she wasn't sure who was the hero or heroine. She decided it was the princess, and was wondering what happens to her at the end.
I may need to make things clearer in my synopsis. To my mind, the protagonist of the story is not any individual but the city, Constantinople, which uses the princess (and many other characters, including foreign mercenaries, merchants, and a gang of juvenile delinquents) to save itself. The central conflict is city vs. anti-city, the latter represented by the Islamic horde (literally; that's ordu in Turkish) of the Ottoman sultan. There is a romance within the novel (beautiful blond princess meets swarthy mounted warrior), but it's not a romance novel. It is, I guess, a political, or maybe a macrosociological novel, not about an individual but about two much larger collectivities -- the city and its enemies -- within which individuals are forced to maneuver. I hope the agent sees that now that she has the final pages. Just exactly what happened to the princess remains ambiguous -- because it is that ambiguity that serves the city (different versions for different factions, which is how all great cities maintain their urban mystique). How the city saved itself, though, is very clear.
And what do we outsiders offer? So far, we have not advanced any compelling program of social or economic content ourselves, says Touraine. Maybe he just says that to provoke us, because we do need to get our act together, to make some demands beyond the negative one of "Peace" (meaning nothing more than "Stop the killing"). I think the place to start is with the demand for democracy, starting with the demand for respect for electoral majorities in our own United States (the election of November 2000 is when our shame began). But much more: If the UN is to become a hollow talking shop, and the European Union equally impotent, while the most unsophisticated, unglobal rubes like Ashcroft and Bush take over the world, then we have to be thinking of some creative new, world-wide channels of effective democratic expression. (Maybe Porto Alegre offers a model?)
You can tell in his press conferences: Rumsfeld always wants to score an immediate point, squelch any concern, and repeat his verse about "the outcome is not in doubt." That's the problem: the man has no doubts, because he can't see far enough ahead. Not far enough to think how his zingers ("It's hard to take France serious" was one of them) will affect longer-range strategy -- because he has no longer-range strategy.
A smarter man would not have trashed the diplomacy that was effectively isolating Saddam. And, after grossly offending France, Russia, China and even Turkey, he would have at least avoided insulting his one remaining ally of importance, Tony Blair, by saying "we" (the US government) didn't really need them. And even after all those blunders, a smarter man still could have declared victory a month ago. He could have said, "Thanks to the immense show of force by American and British troops and the UN's vigorous inspection program, we -- and the international community -- have won. There is no need now to invade Iraq; we have Saddam tightly contained and his weapons closely observed."
But no. This is a man who doesn't know when he has won, because he has never thought out what we're fighting for. And now he doesn't realize that he and all of us have lost: lost our best chance of achieving peace and democratization in the region. But very likely those were never his goals, because there is really no strategy at all. Just more zingers -- some of them carrying tons of explosives -- with no thought for what happens next.
More good storiesNot all is death and destruction. Here are two I enjoyed in Zoetrope 7, 1 (spring 2003): Mario Vargas Llosa (I'll read anything by him, even his relatively boring essays -- he's one of the most skilled verbal craftsmen in fiction) gives us what is little more than an extended joke, "The Lady from Somerset." She chose to lead a romantic fantasy life rather than a real-world life, and thus lived far more happily than her neighbors. Julie Orringer's more elaborate "The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones" is about how constantly trying not to think about sex makes young Orthodox Jews think about nothing but sex. It's very funny, but also frightening -- to think there are people who really live with all those restrictions.
Allen Ginsberg memorial hootenannyBill Coffel, who invited me to read my fiction at the first in his series of "X-Readings," announces:
Saturday - April 12th, 12 Noon - 4PM
The Gymnasium, 339 8th Street (6th Avenue)
Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
firstname.lastname@example.org (718) 769-3211
"F" to 4th Ave" "R" to 9th St.
Event Title - "Object: ALLEN", 6th Year Remembrance Reading - A Pacifist, Spiritual Event sponsored by The X-Readings
Pls. e-mail your friends etc. the details, if you think they'd be interested.
Following are details of an upcoming and exciting Literary/Performance reading/event that people are invited to attend and participate. It is an event that I believe Allen Ginsberg would enjoy in the spirit of his harmonium playing.
Recommended storiesI just received my first issue of the monthly one story, and it's very good: "Midnight Soup," by Rebecca Barry. A pair of losers in love demonstrate how to keep on losing, even when all the odds are in your favor. Here, the couple that fails to couple consists of a female schoolbus driver who is very good at darts, and a bashful restaurant cook who uses liquor to avoid dealing with his anxieties -- or his desires. It's a poignant insight into the psychology of hesitation.
Another worth reading: Richard Powers, "Literary Devices," in Zoetrope 6, 4 (Winter 2002). A novelist gets caught in a world of ever-spinning, computer-code generated cybernarrative.
Geneva and guerrillasIt's good to see that Donald Rumsfeld is now aware of the Geneva Convention governing treatment of POWs. Perhaps he will now begin applying it to the men held in Guant�namo.
Meanwhile, the American military (especially Rumsfeld) is complaining that the Iraqis don't stand up and fight in the open like men, but use sneaky ruses. Same complaint the British Redcoats made against the American irregulars back in the war of 1776-1787. And did you see that photo of the captured Iraqi family, where the crouching paterfamilias was glaring at the American rifleman and holding up his two index fingers to ward off the evil spirit? Somehow he had missed the point that he was being liberated.
O Deutschland, immer noch bleiche Mutter,/ geborgen fühl ich mich nicht in deinem Schoß, / dabei wünscht ich, es wäre anders, ...Mann muss Deutsch noch einmal studieren.