(Art history) confederacy of dunces

There’s been a lot of re-writing of art history recently, thanks to art-historically ignorant curatorial and academic brain trusts who, burdened by the racialist chips on their shoulders, are operating under the misapprehension that re-addressing what they view as historical wrongs justifies more historical wrongs, even at the risk of perpetrating a new historical myth. Thus revisionist art historical agitators ranging from the art history and comparative literature departments at Northwestern University, and the school’s museum, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have re-posited an art historical landscape in which they’ve shifted the geography of the creative genus or genesis from the Occident to what’s now referred to as the “Global South.” What’s incredibly ignorant about this revisionism is that it ignores that the creative mind — the mind of the artist — is not guided by geographical hegemonies but that his  nation, rather, is her art. For the traditional concentration on nexi like Paris, Zurich, and New York, far from being ‘nationalist,’ simply recognizes where the hubs of the Surrealist (or other Modern) movements were at a particular epoch… for artists of a variety of national origins. So that even if the Surrealist movement is (justly!) associated principally with these three world capitals, in fact it was the product of a cross-fertilization *already* and *intrinsically* reflecting multiple national origins, because true, authentic artists — unlike many of our current academic and museal art history revisionists — put the interests of their art before the interests of their race or national origin. Thus it was that a young Hungarian-born, ultimately American photographer, André Kertész, arrived in Paris in the fall of 1925 with little more than a camera and some savings and set about, *influenced by other artists from all over the world who had migrated to this creative fulcrum*, to create a unique oeuvre, an oeuvre celebrated through January 17 at the Art Institute of Chicago with works including, above, “Satiric Dancer,” from 1927. (Family Holdings of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker. © Estate of André Kertész 2021. Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago.) — Paul Ben-Itzak

In these, hope, 9-12-2001: “We are All Americans”

Comments and reports from Stuart Hodes, Keila Cordova, and dancers and others around the world, plus an international press review from Paris
Edited and with commentary by Paul Ben-Itzak
The Dance Insider

First published on September 12, 2001.

“Nous sommes tous Americains!
Nous sommes tous New-Yorkais…”
(We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers)
–Le Monde, front page editorial, dated Thursday Sept. 13

“We know the children who begin the youth of loss greater then they can dream now.”
— Wendell Berry, “November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three”

PARIS — I’d like to share some more responses with you, from our dancer readers around the world and from the French and world press. New Yorkers themselves seem too shell-shocked to do more than check in that they are okay, and I’m happy to report that all our immediate Dance Insider family are present and accounted for. I am also relieved to share, courtesy Dance Insider Rebecca Stenn, that the Events crew of the World Trade Center, which was on site for an 8 a.m. call yesterday, was able to get out in time before the buildings collapsed. As reported earlier to our e-mail list, the Parsons Dance Company and crew, who were scheduled to perform at the WTC, are all safe and accounted for.

Also, Stuart Hodes, Head of School at the Martha Graham School, writes that all in that community are safe and sound, and adds this report which I hope he won’t mind my sharing with you:

“Yesterday around noon I biked down to the OK-Harris Gallery on West Broadway for a tech rehearsal, expecting it to be cancelled, as it was. City was very strange with almost no vehicular traffic, pedestrians crowding into the streets. Near NYU I saw a man covered with cement dust, stopped, said to him, ‘You must have been close.’ He replied, ‘Three blocks,’ told me he’d been taking pictures with his video camera when he heard a shudder, did not think to run until he saw a black cloud of cement dust billowing toward him. He seemed oddly detached, likely suffering from shock. Passers-by gathered, trying to offer reassurance. I asked him his name. ‘James.’ ‘God bless you, James,’ someone said. They were still around him when I biked away. Things will be very different from now on, although just how they will be different no one can know.”

Eliza Miller asks me to pass on that her company’s performances this weekend have been postponed until further notice. Martin Wechsler and Linda Shelton of the Joyce Theater communicate that the Joyce SoHo, as all businesses below 14th Street, will be closed by order of the city until further notice. And that the Joyce family are all okay.

So: Below we have more dancer reaction, followed by reaction in the French and world press. I’ve also added some more reflections of my own, and shared Wendell Berry’s copyrighted poem, quoted above and written on the occasion of the death of John F. Kennedy. (Don’t worry, it won’t depress you!)

One piece of advice from this earthquake survivor (not quite the same as there is no evil intent behind an act of nature, but a trauma nonetheless) to my friends and colleagues in New York and D.C. and indeed across the U.S.A: Give yourself some time to get over this. In San Francisco after the quake of ’89, we were the walking traumatized for months after the 7.0 quake. Oh and also: Post-tragedies are golden opportunities to meet you neighbors and fellow citizens.

Peace,

Paul

Dancer Responses

From Keila Cordova in Brooklyn, New York:

I just want to say thank you for your insight and the power of your words. As i sit here in Brooklyn, paralyzed by events, I am trying to focus on the light. Even as i listen to the war-mongers on TV try to harness our distress onto a cataclysmic path. Yes, this is our Pearl Harbor of 2001. it is also our opportunity to right the innocent loss of life in the nuclear response to that 1940s suicidal attack. How we respond now as a nation says everything about our humanity; this is our opportunity to prove that the hatred in the hearts of the Muslim children I watched jumping in the streets of Palestine is misguided. Are we strong enough to do so?

From dancer Kim-lien Dessault in Paris:

I just heard the news, what could we say …. They got the keys to play war and we have nothing, except our eyes to see or just the ground to fall. I just want colors and human beauty. Intellectuals in France say utopia is dead (it belongs to the past because we are in the 21st century), I would continue to believe in it. I am not the person who could control my thought. Who is Muslim? who is American? who is Israeli? What are the consequences of colonialism in occidental part of the world? A big macy ….They want to make order but it’s impossible, why they don’t accept we are in disorder, the consequence of the consequence.

From choreographer and dancer Joe Alter in Warsaw, Poland:

Thank you for the reports and reactions. I am an American living in Warsaw, Poland. The sense of shock, disbelief, and sadness that such a thing could be allowed to happen, that human beings who surely have loved ones of their own, could allow hate to consume them, that one human being could objectify other human beings as “other” to such a degree that they become ”assets” to be used to display their hate….how do we go so far down that road that something like this becomes possible? I too lived in San Francisco during the earthquake, and in New York when the trade center was bombed before. The feeling I have is inexpressible. Helpless…. I wonder what power we in the arts wield against such horror. The dancer in France who spoke of color and beauty — the creation of light in a world that sometimes seems so full of darkness. I question whether what we have to offer, not in retaliation but in answer to this unspeakable tragedy and others like it, is sufficient. Are there enough of us to make a difference? And yet I also know that I have no other tools at my disposal — all I know is light, color, and beauty, so as ineffectual as I fear these things may be, it is to these thing I turn.

From dancer and DI Correspondent Bettina Preuschoff in Hamburg, Germany:

“Something in this dimension has never been in our days…. Yes, I know the biggest community of Jewish people outside Israel is in New York. So the question is….my goodness! For me, seeing the background of my own country….it’s…I can’t find the words. How can one have such a hate? How is it possible to act like that as a human being? This act changes the world. All my personal problems of the last weeks are really ridiculous…! Yesterday, I felt like it would be impossible to write about dance in the next days, but I think all which has happened is one more reason to talk about it, to give a light to other people.”

From Jefferson James in Cincinnati:

Thank you. I can continue my day with a little more concentration than I expected. You’ve made it just a little easier for me to do what I knew I should do — be more committed and vocal, in my community, which isn’t New York or Washington but has the same hate issues roiling at the surface. We probably won’t get terrorist attacks but we’ve had our riots so — we’ll continue to shed light and bring dance. It’s all I can do and now it seems a bit more important than yesterday.

Reaction from the French and world press, and from the world in general

This evening’s Le Monde devotes a 20-page, front section to the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon, including on the ground description from New York and editorials and reaction from around the world.

Under the headline (relying on my sketchy French) “America is Struck, the World is Siezed by Fear,) the front page of this evening’s Le Monde, usually illustrated with a cartoon, carries a color photo of a smoke-covered lower Manhattan, seen from the Hudson and dwarfing that French tribute to American democracy, the Statue of Liberty. The lead story ends by concluding, “Today, (Manhattan) is a cemetary.” An editorial echoes a common reading overseas of the message this tragedy sends to President Bush: That an isolationist policy is not an option for the United States. As well, that US plans for a missile shield ignore the biggest threat to international security, rogue terrorist states andorganizations.

There’s a funny “Our man on Broadway” account by Afsane Bassir Pour with some choice quotes from Manhattanites, including this from a woman interviewed at Bruce’s Hamburgers near Times Square: “And Bush? Where is he? I have no confidence with this ‘petite’ Bush.”

Le Monde also includes a sampling of reaction from the press, governments, and people around the world.

With the exception of Iraq, whose government says “Le cow-boy American” is reaping the fruits of its own actions, the governments universally condemn the attacks. In China, Le Monde reports, ultranationalists writing on the Internet ask, ‘When the Americans bomb Iraq, is that not terrorism? When the Americans bomb the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, is that not terrorism?” In Algeria, official reaction condemned the attacks but also excoriated the media, particularly French television, for the premature conclusion that the assault was committed by Arabs and Muslims.

Le Monde also surveys reaction — and, already, prescriptions — from the world’s media. In Israel, it reports, the daily Ha’Aretz states that with the bombing, World War has commenced — a war to counter terrorism around the world. The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, bemoans the repeated scenes on television of jubilant Palestinians. (Several of whom Le Monde also shows triumphantly firing their Kalashnikovs in Lebanon, and crying for Tel Aviv to be attacked next.) In Italy, La Stampa of Turin opines that a climate of war is rapidly taking over the world. In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggests that the U.S. administration take this attack as a cue to focus more attention on the Near East, where anti-American sentiment has been fomenting for some months.

Finally, Le Monde reports on reaction from Americans in Paris. Several schools have started searching the bags of all who enter. At Harry’s American Bar, one patron compared her feeling to that after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Some Reflections from Paul Ben-Itzak: Our Loss of Innocence

That assassination, of Kennedy, wreaked a devastating loss of innocence — the innocence of Kennedy’s contemporaries who had seen him usher in their New Camelot, and the innocence of my generation, scarcely born and not even knowing the meaning of the word innocence before it was taken away from us. Much of the hippie movement of the Sixties was an attempt to hang on to that feeling, and it was a nice party while it lasted, but then it petered out. Eventually, we, in America — governmentally, anyway — retreated into our shell. Which is not to say we didn’t militarily intervene, but we lost much of our corporate zeal to engage with the world. In the arts, we felt this in the dwindling and finally essential elimination of federal programs for touring our artists. We also retracted when it came to bringing foreign artists to the U.S.; as the presenters and managers among you know, if you want to bring a foreign artist to the U.S., you have to run a major bureaucratic gauntlet.

Me, I feel yesterday’s senseless slaugher — even across the Atlantic — as a second loss of innocence. I feel a little naive confessing to this feeling here in Europe, where they know what it is to be vulnerable; there are still bullet holes in many of the buildings I pass every day, and on everything from apartment buildings to Metro stations, you can find a plaque memorializing a veteran of the resistance who used to live there or who died defending the spot. Indeed, an anglophile French friend, who is an authority on U.S. culture, says this is not a loss of innocence but of illusion.

I believe that even if we can pinpoint a source for this attack, and even if we can bring the mastermind to justice, and even if we can bring the country that harbored him to justice, it may produce a short-term high but really, it won’t solve the long-term problem. Sure, we still have those — our artists among them — who engage the world and who bring to other countries a vision of America that counters that of the bully of the world. (And, on top of everything else, what the evil and corrupted minds and hearts of those who did this don’t realize is that in attacking New York, they didn’t just stop the motor of Capitalism, they stopped the motor of all the good energy, artistic and otherwise, that is concentrated in New York. Whether it’s our economy or our culture, New Yorkers with their manic but ultimately dedicated energy are the nucleus, the locus, of the American cultural and intellectual engine. Which is not to say these don’t take place elsewhere in the country, but that in New York it’s a 24-hour operation. It’s the heart. Today, that heart has stopped. ) But I don’t think this is enough. I believe that on a government level we need to earn back the respect — not just the fear — of the downtrodden of the world. Yesterday’s massacre showed that we don’t earn this by brandishing our stick every time we’re attacked. (Dance Insider Susan of Biloxi, where the military are being mobilized to help with this disaster, makes the valid point that our young men and women of the armed forces do much good work in the world, and as such also represent the United States in its best face. So my comment is not aimed at those in the trenches, but at the war-mongers at the top who do the brandishing and who threaten, anyway, to use these innocents for less noble ends.) I think it starts with the children — with giving them a different — a “kinder, gentler” if you will — vision of America. I don’t say there shouldn’t be an individual justice meted out to the perpetrators of this attack and their sponsors. But I say if it stops there we are not really preventing another attack in the future, because an “eye for an eye” policy does not change hearts and minds. And as this attack shows, if someone is of a heart and mind to kill you, they will find a way.

John F. Kennedy had that vision of America’s true engagement with the world. He had more responsibility than, perhaps, we like to admit for miring us in Vietnam, but it was also under Kennedy that the Peace Corps was launched.

I’d like to close with “November Twenty-Six, Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three,” a poem by Wendell Berry. Originally published in The Nation, it was issued in book form, illustrated by Ben Shahn in a stark wood-block manner, shortly after President Kennedy was killed. That assassination, which took place when I was two-and-a-half years old, is my first conscious memory. I received the book on my third birthday. It is rather in tatters now, but I can still decipher part of what our family friend Bill Wedemeyer wrote on the inside cover: “Years from now, you will hear about this event….It often brings sadness, and perhaps despair, to the minds of some men, to witness the deeds of others. There are times when the goals of men seem to be so opposed to that dream or image of man that some of our minds hold, that indeed man seems lost. That this little book exists is a ray of proof that from this despair, beauty can still be born.”

Now that I think of it, there were those like Bill and my parents, and maybe yours — or maybe you — who were able to rescue John Kennedy’s vision from his biere, and carry those ideals into the Sixties. Maybe we can do the same. Here’s the poem; be well!

Peace,

Paul

Wendell Berry’s Poem on the Passing of President Kennedy

November Twenty-Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three”
Copyright 1963 Wendell Berry

We know the winter earth upon the body of the young president, and the early dark falling;

We know the Veins grown quiet in his temples and wrists, and his hands and eyes grown quiet;

We know his name written in the black capitals of his death, and the mourners standing in the rain, and the leaves falling;

We know his death’s horses and drums; the roses, bells, candles, crosses; the faces hidden in veils;

We know the children who begin the youth of loss greater then they can dream now;

We know the nightlong coming of faces into the candle-light before his coffin, and their passing;

We know the mouth of the grave waiting, the bugle and rifles, the mourners turning away;

We know the young dead body carried in the earth into the first deep night of its absence;

We know our streets and days slowly opening into the time he is not alive, filling with our footsteps and voices;

We know ourselves, the bearers of the light of the earth he is given to, and of the light of all his lost days;

We know the long approach of summers toward the healed ground where he will be waiting, no longer the keeper of what he was.

September 11, 2001: The day the plates shifted and defying gravity became just a little bit harder

Stephanie Berger’s photograph of Streb Extreme Action performing Elizabeth Streb’s “Plateshift,” receiving its U.S. premiere September 17 – 19 at Manhattan West in New York in free performances, provides a needed reminder that far from suddenly becoming irrelevant, in a time of ‘real-world’ darkness the ability of the dancer’s body to eloquently evoke what the rest of us might have difficulty articulating, of the acrobat of the gods to externalize what mere mortals might be sensing internally, becomes — Ô combien! — essential.

Flash Letter, 9-15-2001: Surviving
Life for a ‘Luxury Item’ after 9-11-01

By Veronica Dittman
Copyright 2001, 2021 Veronica Dittman

Dear Dance Insider Readers,

There is a long-standing delicate matter between my respected friend Paul, the publisher of this venture, and me. It consists of my defensive insistence that he not print any of my submissions without letting me approve his edits to them. However, in this case, I am trusting him to not let this be too personal, too self-indulgent, or too full of parenthetical notes (but Paul, don’t you think an occasional glimpse of the subtext can be interesting? like when someone’s slip is showing?). He’s asked for written responses from us New Yorkers, but like everyone here, I’m a little strung out and am aware that my judgment is probably wobbly.

We’re quickly learning to live in the aftermath. Phone lines are undependable, the subways are undependable, there are 90 bomb threats a day, we hear fighter jets overhead patrolling us but mostly we can’t see them, and the air quality is horrendous in places. Just the same, I took ballet with Marjorie Mussman yesterday and the class was well attended (she comes in from New Jersey!), and Stef tells me she took class with Zvi at City Center this week. Friends came over to my apartment last night, and after the now routine exchange of stories and impressions, there was much hilarity.

Among my concentric circles of friends, so far I’ve only heard tales of luck, escape, and relief, so I’m grateful. But then, there are so many people gone that it becomes impersonal. If ol’ Martha was onto something with the idea of collective unconscious, there’s such a big hole here that we all feel it. There are fliers made on home computers and posted on bus shelters and lamp posts everywhere, with a photo and phone numbers: “If you’ve seen this person, please call.”

At my worst, I’m scared to drink the water, I’m scared to breathe the air, and I practically hyperventilate when the train stops for a routine red signal. In an outburst of selfishness, I’m scared that I won’t be able to get to my doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, or that the doctor will be busy with some new disaster. The hardest part for me is accepting that now the structures and systems I’d taken for granted are vulnerable and impermanent. Everything will be different now, unstable. (for once, I would love to be wrong. I would love to think back on this in a year and see myself as a melodramatic alarmist.) It’s possible, probable, that there’s more horror to come, that we’ll live with it. I’m aware that so many other cultures have had to live with this fear, and have adapted, but I arrogantly thought we were immune here.

I find I’m hopelessly in love with the physical, and my tangled theology reveals itself. I’ve got the Apostles’ Creed promising “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting” and I’m drawn to these Zen Buddhist dancing skeletons meant to confront “the impermanent nature of material existence” so that freedom, bliss, and enlightenment can become possible.

After an initial impulse to run like hell all the way to my parents’ house in Wisconsin, I don’t want to leave. As Fran Liebowitz said in a radio interview this morning, “I need myself here, even if no one else does.” I also related to her identifying herself as a “luxury item”: my skills aren’t particularly useful right now. She pointed out that construction workers and nurses, who never get any press around here, are desperately needed, and it turns out that the stylists and designers are temporarily unimportant.

Sending out good wishes to you all,

Veronica

Veronica Dittman is the founding editor of The Dance Insider. Subsequent reporting, notably by Juan Gonzalez, and the diagnoses of thousands who subsequently got sick from breathing air infected with asbestos and other toxic residue from the explosion of the Twin Towers (despite assurances from Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman that the air was safe to breathe), would prove that on this subject, Veronica was not being alarmist. Among those who also contributed to the Dance Insider’s local, national, and international coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks which took more than 3,000 American lives were webmistress Robin Hoffman, New York editor Darrah Carr, Stuart Hodes, photographer Julie Lemberger, Rebecca Stenn, Allison Green, Susan Yung, Maura Nguyen Donohue, Chris Dohse, Eileen Darby, Rosa Mei, Josephine Leask, Tom Patrick, Aimee Ts’ao, Jay Weissman, Christine Chen, Alicia Mosier Chesser, Asimina Chremos, David White, Laurie Uprichard, Ben Zackheim, and Nancy Dalva. Personal thanks from PB-I go to Paris friends Lucie, Lionel, Beatrice, and la Môme Maureen for making it a little less harder to be so far away.

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Deja vu all over again: Why Albert Camus’s 1944 “Critique of the New Press” is more pertinent than ever

In view of the rampant (if not universal; there are exceptions) sub-standard journalism and bias aupres de French public radio media, in particular but not uniquely as concerns its uncritical coverage — or simply radio silence — when it comes to Israel’s comportment as a citizen of the world and envers the Palestinians whose well-being is its responsibility under international law, but also its almost complete lack of analysis in covering the French government’s recent (and laudable; the vaccine laxists largely responsible for the new explosion of Covid cases gave it no other choice) efforts to make access to certain events and places contingent on being fully vaccinated — in light, then, of the sub-standard radio journalism that seems to be the rule (though there are notable exceptions), we think Albert Camus’s “Critique of the New Press,” published by Combat on the heels of the August 1944 Liberation of Paris, is unfortunately today more pertinent than ever. To read the complete editorial, in the French original and in translation, on our sister site the Paris Tribune, please click here.

One more thing: For the past year-and-a-half, up to and including these recent proposed measures, French president Emmanuel Macron, his health minister, his finance minister, and his current prime minister have not flinched; in the face of a global and national crisis which blindsided them, they have reacted, lead, and legislated at the hauteur of their offices. By contrast, at French public radio, many of those who would claim to be journalists have simply abdicated (the notable exceptions including Radio France’s Danielle Messenger). To the degree to which an instinctive French (and American) skepticism regarding governments is responsible for the continued unwillingness of some to be vaccinated, I blame the mainstream public radio media; if it had properly — not uncritically, but thoroughly and by applying the highest journalistic standards — done its job in analyzing and explaining these government measures, I am convinced that a large portion of this reflexively, obstinately skeptical population would have been re-assured and convinced, and we would not be in the situation where we are now, looking an imminent fourth wave in its whale of a mouth. — PB-I

What a yellow star means / Ce que veut dire porter une étoile jaune en France

Le temps des manifs plus responsable: Affiche, mai ’68.

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2021 Paul Ben-Itzak

Pour Sidney, pour Pascal, pour Gloria Lyon, et en souvenir de John Franklin. (To translate the paragraph below into English, click the Google Translation button at right.)

Dans une des manifs du w-e dernière contre les nouvelles mesures gouvernementales destiné à pousser les gens a se faire vacciner — besoin impératif si on veut retrouver nos libertés car les chiffres de contamination sont en train de monter dans une pente raide — il y en a qui, il semble, ont choisi à porter les gros étoiles jaunes sur les dos. Façon à pointer, on suppose, un parallèle entre les juifs déporté a leurs mortes pendant le deuxième guerre mondiale — dont seulement 3,000 du 74,000 déporté par les Occupants et le gouvernement de Vichy dans le nom de la France, parmi laquelle s’était trouvé 11,000 enfants, ont revenu des camps de la mort — et le fait à obliger les gens à se faire vacciner pour pouvoir voyager sur le train, entrer aux musées et restos, et cetera ou être capable a continuer à travailler dans les métiers de santé ou avec contacte réguler avec le publique. Comme geste politique, ce n’est pas seulement bête, mais c’est honteux. Car, au contraire aux connards qui ont fait ca — parce que ne vous trompé pas, c’était une connerie du pire sorte — ces juifs la n’ont pas eu le choix ; l’étoile leur étaient imposé. Et dans leur cas, l’étoile n’était pas une signe de proteste mais une signe qu’on était designé et destiné d’être déporté et, en attendant, que les autres avaient le droit de vous traiter comme les sous-humains, même si vous etait citoyen.ne français.e, même si vos ancêtres ont etaient morte pour la France, même si vous était une grande artiste ou écrivain (comme Robert Desnos ou Max Jacob) et avais fait les contributions importantes a la culture française et mondiale. Et âpres que vous aurais été déporté, les autres aurient droit a vous despoiler tout ca qui vous appartient.

Voici l’histoire de ce qui était arrivé a une des ses familles française-juif.

In Belleville, it’s back to life, back to art reality

Among the 84 ateliers opening their doors from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. today through Monday for the Open Studios of the Associated Artists of Belleville to showcase the work of more than 130 artists, in the best neighborhood in the world high atop the city of Paris, are the most conscious and two of the most talented artists and teachers in the world that we know, Kristin Meller (that’s her work above) and Raul Velasco as well as other artists of the Atelier Cascades, on the rue of the same name because that’s where the water used to flow down from the abbeys to the rest of Paris. Now it’s the art that flows. Next to water, you can’t do better than that, sustenance-wise. Et nous? Ca vas de soi, malgré notre mauvais reputation dans les villages sans pretention.