The Banalization of Evil: While you were sleeping, Putin murdered 21 innocent civilians in Odessa; does the Media care?

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2022 Paul Ben-Itzak

If you’d have blinked — or turned on your coffee-grinder — you might have missed it, buried as the horrible massacre was in this morning’s newscasts on Radio France channels France Inter and France Culture, in between reports on the opening of the Tour de France, high school news, the latest power maneuvers in the newly realigned French assembly and a 26-year-old ‘fait divers’ (crime story): While you were sleeping, Vlad the Impaler Putin bombed another Ukrainian apartment building and recreation center, this one in Odessa, killing at least 21 people — six of them children, children who thanks to the terrorist Putin will never grow up to live their lives — and wounding 38. While Putin’s people were claiming they never targeted civilians (just killed, raped, kidnapped, maimed, tortured, humiliated, imprisoned, and starved them out), Berlin was denouncing Russian ‘cynicism.’

Note to bored newsdesk editors (and not just at Radio France; even Democracy Now buried this massacre deep down in its headlines Friday): As long as Putin’s butcheries continue, this needs to be your lead story every day. Second only, perhaps, to climate catastrophes and those of more dead refugees, like the 53 Central Americans who effectively burned to death in a tractor-trailor in Texas discovered Tuesday (apparently dosed with meat tenderizer, supposedly to dupe border guards), a tragedy the spoiled babies and so-called journalists at Radio France were too busy striking — for reasons only they understand — to report on except for a short late-night headline. (A shooting rampage in an Oslo gay nightclub was similarly barely reported.)

Update: By this afternoon’s 4 p.m. newscast on France Inter, the Tour de France and Wimbledon were still trumping the Putin-murdered Ukrainians, who had disappeared from the newscast. By the 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. newscasts, it had completely disappeared from the headlines. Shame on you, France Inter. Radio France’s fine and brave foreign correspondents themselves excepted, you have lost the right to call yourselves journalists.

Let joy reign on your Red Road

From the exhibition Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography, on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American art from October 30 through January 22: Kiliii Yüyan (Nanai/Hèzhé and Chinese-American) (b. 1979), “Joy Mask, IK,” 2018, inkjet print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, P2021.41, © Kiliii Yüyan.

Paint it Red

Landmarks: On view from October 30 through January 22 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, as part of the exhibition Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography: Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangax) (b. 1979), “Get Comfortable,” 2012, dye coupler print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, P2021.42, © Nicholas Galanin.

Chevalier de la Barre, 6-17: The new Red-baiters

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2022 Paul Ben-Itzak

“We are dealing with … political adventurers using the Red menace as their leverage to power. To try to explain to them that one is not a Communist is as humiliating as it is useless, unless one is prepared to go over completely to their service.”

— I.F. Stone, in a column vaunting Albert Einstein’s call for civil disobedience of Senator Joseph McCarthy and other Congressional witch-hunters, June 20, 1953. Collected in “The Haunted Fifties,” the Merlin Press Ltd., 1964, copyright 1963, I.F. Stone

“[French Leftist opposition leader Jean-Luc Melenchon’s NUPES coalition] has an ambiguous stance on laicité.”

— French prime minister Elisabeth Borne, a member of president Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party

SAINT-CYPRIEN (Dordogne), France — Bruno Devic is normally one of Radio France’s most serious and intrepid journalists. So what was Devic, host of the middle-brow public radio chain France Inter’s midday news program, doing yesterday spending half of a 15-minute interview grilling a deputy from the Nouvelle Union Populaire, Ecologique, and Social (NUPES) — the alliance of Left-wing parties posed to potentially defeat president Emmanuel Macron’s Centrist Renaissance party in Sunday’s final round of legislative elections — on why she and other NUPES deputies posed for a photo with former British Labor leader Jeremy Corbin, who Devic alleged, without laying any foundation, had been temporarily ousted from Labor because he was allegedly an anti-Semite (which, given the French mainstream media perspective which usually equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, probably means Corbin had criticized Israel)? Instead of, say, asking her how NUPES proposes to solve the crisis in French hospitals, with under-staffed emergency rooms recently forced to close during off-hours around the country, including in major cities like Bordeaux? (On Sunday, a four-year-old who sliced his toes off with his father’s chain-saw had to wait four hours before his parents finally found a hospital able to admit him; even Paris’s storied Necker hospital had no room.) Or why the best her Insoumis party (lead by Jean-Luc Melenchon, who could become prime minister if NUPES garners a majority Sunday) could come up with as an alternative to the Macron government’s imposition of what was effectively a Covid vaccine mandate, which the Insoumises opposed, was installing air fresheners in classrooms? Or what the products of necessity are whose prices NUPES proposes to block to help French households cope with inflation, with some grocery prices going up as high as 20 percent? (By contrast, M. Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Mer, interviewed by Devic earlier this week, was given free reign to pose pertinent questions to M. Melenchon.)

This shabby, irresponsible, and just plain biased journalism isn’t confined to the middle-brow radio chain. The previous night, the news host of the putatively high-brow public radio chain, France Culture, repeated the insinuations by Elisabeth Borne, M. Macron’s recently named prime minister (who could be deposed if NUPES triumphs Sunday), that the NUPES stance on French laicité was “ambiguous” (this following insinuations by Ms. Borne that the NUPES, or at least some of its candidates, did not support “Republican” values), without giving NUPES the opportunity to respond. If this isn’t biased, subjective journalism masquering as neutral (French public radio operates under the ‘tutelage’ of the Culture minister), I don’t know what is.

The larger problem here is that in recent years, charges of being anti-laique, or anti-French lay values and laws (simply for opposing the stigmatization of French Muslims), has become the Gallic equivalent of the Red Scare (or Menace) of what the maverick journalist I.F. Stone dubbed America’s “haunted ’50s,” in which Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, aided and abetted by lawyer Roy M. Cohn and FBI director Edgar Hoover, lead a legion of senators and congressman (notably through the platform of the House Un-American Activities Committee, although this preceded McCarthy) in labeling anyone who dissented with the capitalist system (or simply exercised their right to free speech) as Pinkos, Commies, Subversives, Reds, and, most nefariously, “Un-American” and as thus posing a threat to the “American Way of Life,” these Red-baiters often couching their crusade as being waged in the name of freedom.

But just as the McCarthyists’ vision of the American Way of Life was actually opposed to it in labeling precisely anyone who practiced its fundamental and founding right, Freedom of Speech, as subversive and anti-American, so the canard of ‘anti-laique’ or anti-lay values floated by the French prime minister and other Renaissance politicians misreads the law of laicité and does the opposite of what the law is intended to do, in attacking those like Melenchon who only want to protect lay values in France and who understand that the intent of the law protecting laicité is not to stigmatize those who would wear their religion on their sleeves (by covering their heads), but to protect the free expression of religious (or non-religious) beliefs in France. (And don’t get me started on the false debate over the “Burkini” — a swimwear garment created by a London fashion house — which has once again re-surfaced, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.)

If she is concerned about protecting lay values, the prime minister should be confronting those who would erode them, notably Marine Le Pen’s “National Rally” party, whose announced first proposed measure, if the party garners enough votes Sunday to constitute a parliamentary group, would be to ban the wearing of head-scarves (effectively, by Muslim women) in public — instead of reviviing a new and fictive variety of “Red Menace” to use as a red herring to avoid discussing the real challenges facing French society.

…. Lately I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m., because this is one of the few times that France Culture radio has anything intelligent to say (outside its Saturday morning news program, the early Sunday morning program “Questions d’Islam,” and, depending on the guests and the topics chosen by its host Patrick Cohen, the later Sunday morning public affairs program “Esprit Publique”), in this case through broadcasts of lectures by professors at the College de France, the country’s free university in Paris. For the past week or so, Antoine Compagnon has been holding forth on “Proust, Essayist.” (Juxtapose this with prime time, when we have the right to emissions such as “Does one have to read Proust to talk about him?”) Thanks to Compagnon, I now understand why both Montaigne and Proust are difficult for me to penetrate: Apparently, Montaigne was Proust ‘en puissance’ (before his time) and Proust is aiming to emulate him.

Today Compagnon had moved on to explaining Proust’s fondness for Ralph Waldo Emerson (also a challenge for mezigue), a penchant so important that one of the last things the author of “The Remembrance of Times Lost” wrote was a citation from the American Philosopher:

“One should avoid frequenting morons, because morons are frivolous.”

For an intellectual — or let’s say, for someone to whom France, since reading
Albert Camus’s “The Plague” in high school, has always represented the heights of intellectual discourse and reflection* — this is what is so tragic about witnessing the base level to which a party lead by a smart, inquisitive president has let his ministers, aided and abetted by the confederacy of dunces which now seems to rule French public radio’s news programs, lower the debate. I am not sure that he, and they, are aware that the stakes here — beyond the political parry — are nothing less than the country’s soul as a font for intellect-driven discourse and reflection based on reason and the quest to understand.

*If I’m able to refer to columns from I.F. Stone’s weekly, it’s because I scored a copy of the book collecting them in a bookstore in the Latin Quarter, where “The Haunted Fifties” was on sale for 1.50 Euros.

DUPONT QUITS PARIS OPERA BALLET DIRECTORSHIP — LONG LIVE AURELIE DUPONT (and RAIMOND HOGUE)

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003, 2022 Paul Ben-Itzak

Aurélie Dupont, the most brilliant and empathetic ballerina of her Paris Opera Ballet generation, today quit the post of POB director she’s occupied since 2016, when Benjamin Millepied left the position after a short-lived and tumultuous tenure, praising ‘this beautiful house’ which she’s been a part of for four decades. Rather than jump into the futile fray of speculation over Dupont’s reasons, we’re taking the occasion to revisit what was, along with the ballerina’s portrayal of a mentally retarded Giselle in Mats Ek’s deconstruction of that romantic ballet, one of the most stirring evenings we’ve ever spent at the Ballet — at the theater. As our review of that performance was first published, on June 19, 2003, as part of a Flash Journal also considering a performance by the late Raimond Hoghe — another poignant actor-dancer — which regards both artists in the larger perspective of Dance’s potential for humanistic resonance, we resurrect today the complete article. — PB-I

PARIS — She’s been out with an injury since September, but it took only one night to remind the Paris Opera Ballet audience that Aurelie Dupont remains the company’s reigning ballerina, a dancer who communicates not by flourishing fouettés but by a presence of body and soul that engages her audience as surely as it pushes her surrounding players beyond themselves. The ballet was Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 “Manon” (to music by Massenet), the occasion was technically part of the international MacMillan celebration, but most of all, Tuesday’s performance at the Garnier celebrated the transformative power of a ballerina.

Despite the havoc wreaked on the men who swirl around her like moths to flame, Manon, as envisioned by Abbe Prevost in his 1731 “L’Histoire de Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut” and by MacMillan, is essentially guileless. It takes a guileless ballerina to portray her truly, sidestepping a narrative which might imply contrivance: She falls as easily into a liaison with the young des Grieux as she is then lured away from his bed by the jewels and furs (not to mention a handsome present to her brother, Lescaut) offered by Monsieur de G.M., before returning to des Grieux. Coaxed by Manon and Lescaut, des Grieux cheats at cards against Monsieur de G.M. the ruse is discovered, Lescaut shot and killed, and Manon sent off to a penal colony in New Orleans with des Grieux following as her ‘husband.’ He rescues her from the grasps of a lecherous jailer, only to see her die, exhausted, in flight.

As in her mentally retarded Giselle in Mats Ek’s version of the ballet of the same name, Dupont uses her radiant innocence, this time to help us see the story from Manon’s innocent perspective. She eagerly accepts M. de G.M.’s furs and his embrace, but can’t depart with him without stopping to smell the sheets on which she and des Grieux have just made love. Of course that’s MacMillan’s choreography, but we believe it because Dupont makes it a private, not melodramatic moment. When she accepts Lescaut’s suggestion to enlist des Grieux in the rigged poker game, handing him some cards to hide in a pocket, it’s after she’s re-accepted him as her lover, thus the poker game seems a practical way to give them some means before she deserts M. de G.M.. In the end, when she tries to keep up with des Grieux as they flee the authorities, running up and down the Garnier’s raked stage after him with flagging strength, it’s as much to please him as to save her own skin. And, demonstrating the way Dupont invests her whole body, not just legs, arms, and face with a character and an action, we see her exhaustion not through faint steps but a limpness gradually spreading through all her muscles. Fatigue.

The couple is fleeing because des Grieux has just stabbed the magistrate as he made moves on Manon. This deed is not just accepted as a fait accompli by Manon, who returns to and lingers over the body in disbelief that he’s dead, a regret — not just that they’re in trouble, but that he’s killed a man — that infects des Grieux as well.

And here’s the other marker of a true ballerina that Dupont demonstrates: upping the anté for her fellows. Dupont’s des Grieux Tuesday fell to Jean-Guillaume Bart, a principal with a clean form but who all too often displays an anti-septic aspect. Opposite (and reacting to) Dupont, what normally seems in him lack of expression came across as tense, struggling containment, for example as a flustered des Grieux weaves around the parlor of the bordello where the bejeweled Manon and M. de G.M. have appeared. Or when, kneeling downstage center as the curtain falls, he cradles the just-expired Manon in his arms and across his lap and we see his lips move in agony as he keans over her death.

Also upping the anté — in perhaps the most important role, kinetically — was Kader Belarbi as Lescaut. After he enters the bordello with des Grieux already inebriated, what ensues in Lescaut’s duet with his mistress (Stephanie Romberg) is not slapstick but, really, a study in the importance of timing and balance to partnering.

Typically, inebriation is marked on stage by stumbling and perhaps a goofy expression. But MacMillan — and Belarbi understands this — uses it to retard the whole body and show the effect this has on the partnering. For example, too late to catch her gracefully, he ends up scooping his partner up by her armpits with the crooks of his elbows. Walter Terry, in his “Ballet Guide” (Popular Library, 1977), describes this duet as “a brilliantly constructed fusion of virtuosic ballet technique with virtuosic lurchings, falls, and totterings in a scene which seems to call for the introduction of a new term into the ballet vocabulary: grand pas d’ivresse (drunkeness).”

With all due credit for this interpretation to the veteran Belarbi — who originated the role when the ballet entered the Paris Opera Ballet repertoire in 1990 — the precision of this duet, or the ballet’s retaining it, obviously owes something to Monica Parker, the Benesh notator (and head of the Benesh organization) who staged it this time around, assisted by Patricia Ruanne, a former partner to and rehearsal director for Nureyev when he directed the Paris Opera Ballet. Thus we have yet another demonstration of how critical dance notation is to retaining choreographic nuance and the choreographer’s intentions. Belarbi learned the role from MacMillan, but future generations won’t have that opportunity, and notation makes sure correct interpretation is not left to chance.

Speaking of altered bodily states, the German choreographer-dancer (and former dramaturg to Pina Bausch) Raimond Hoghe doesn’t hide the hump on his back, so it’s appropriate to begin a consideration of his lecture-performance last week at the Menagerie de verre with the way that hump affects his carriage. In fact, it makes it hard to take your eyes of him. I’m not speaking just of when he takes his shirt off, turns his back to us, and scales around and over the hump with a green ruler-sized stick. But it adds a lilt to his gait that makes even a perambulation of the circumference of the menagerie’s concrete space, with no prop but a magnifying glass, riveting.

The magnifying glass, and a doll-house (shades of Dan Hurlin) complete with lawn introduced later, suggest Hoghe is trying to say something about perspective. But the most disturbing thing is not the way he looks, but rather how he appears to look at the way he looks. In a section set to an unidentified tune from Yiddish singer Joseph Schmidt, Hoghe tells us he identifies with Schmidt, persecuted by the Nazis because they didn’t like his size, because Hoghe is small too. Before showing an excerpt of a piece on the effects of AIDS on the body, he ‘acknowledges’ that he is not beautiful.

Paradoxically, and after insisting that this performance is ‘not therapy,’ the way he then caresses his naked back with the stick (after telling us some Asian arts forms use the stick to circumscribe the performing space) indicates that in fact, he’s quite at home with his body, whatever he may think of its aesthetic appeal.

Aesthetically, that gait — clearly dictated by how the large hump skews his spinal column and/or hips, and it is large — takes even an ordinary piece of silliness such as a ’60s-style go-go dance and makes it magical. (The music — recordings by Edith Piaf, Cass Elliot, Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Dalida, Jacques Brel, and others — also helps.)

Just before this performance, I’d been worrying over how now that little chunks of my teeth seem to be falling off monthly, nobody would ever love me. (There’s that growing liberty paunch, too; jogging, even all the way up the stairs to Sacre Coeur, doesn’t really help you lose weight if you reward yourself with a chocolate-almond-pistachio patisserie.) But after I left this performance — in which a man so obviously beautiful seemed to think he wasn’t — and made my way to the Grands Boulevards, suddenly I felt like a chick magnet. A diner stopped conversing with her date to stare at me; a beautiful biker halted in-flight to flirt. Dance, and its interpreters, as both Dupont and Hoghe reminded me, has the power to impress us not just with the beauty and expression of the dancer’s body but the beauty of our own bodies, in all their expressions, and with all their idiosyncrasies.

Emancipate-toi

From the exhibition Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation, on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art from March 12 through July 9, 2023: Currier & Ives, The Lincoln Statue in Lincoln Square, Washington, D.C., 1876, lithograph, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 2019.3.

Chevalier de la Barre, 6/14, Emancipation: French parliamentary elections pit president’s new cynicism against new Left alliance’s NUPES-topia

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2022 Paul Ben-Itzak

“L’idéal, c’est quand on peut mourir pour ses idées, la politique, c’est quand on peut en vivre.” (The ideal is when one can die for one’s ideas. Politics is when one can live on them.)

— Charles Péguy, cited on the frontispiece of Michel Ragon’s “La mémoire des vaincus” (The Book of the Vanquished)

SAINT-CYPRIEN (Dordogne), France — Launched into this cruel, crazy, beautiful world four months after the inauguration of President Kennedy, I inherited the belief that politics exists to help us aspire to the best in ourselves, society, the immediate world around us and the larger planet and spiritual universe. My parents Eva Wise, Edward Winer, and Linda Ramey raised me and my younger brothers Aaron and Jordan with the kind of righteous values that inspired Aaron and I to decide to mouth the words of the daily Pledge of Allegiance we had to recite in school when it came to ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ because in the mid-’60s, we were not there yet and, thanks to our parents, Aaron and I knew this. My second-grade principal John Cash reinforced this when his idea to teach the upper-grade students in our little red school-house in rural Northern California in 1968 about racism by keeping all the students with brown eyes after school one day and all the students with blue eyes the next provoked a midnight visit from the hunter-fathers of some of the kids who told him, at gunpoint, to get out of town; he got. Back in San Francisco, Ruth Asawa, a survivor of the Japanese-American concentration camps, had transformed her own direct experience with racial intolerance into a conviction in the importance of art education, directing us in creating a school-yard mosaic for Alvarado Elementary School (the Alvarado Arts Project would eventually evolve into the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts) which is still there (I made the school-bus).

By sixth grade, the Pledge of Allegiance had been supplanted by Woody Guthrie’s people’s national anthem “This Land is Your Land,” with which Ernie Baumgarten, Louise Stovall, and the five other teachers who founded Rooftop School in 1972 (on top of a public school in San Francisco’s richest district; we took the bus through one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods) had us open our day. In eighth grade — 1974-75 — it was Gertrude Mays who, to teach us both about racism and our troubled justice system, took us on a field trip to the Marin County Courthouse to witness the trial of the San-Quentin Six (of whose defense committee Gertrude, as she insisted we address her, was the secretary), Black men charged with committing various crimes during the prison escape attempt in which George “Soledad Brother” Jackson was killed. I remember the metal detectors, Willie Spain’s corn-rowed hair, and Spain and his five co-defendants shuffling into the courtroom in hand and ankle shackles. (One of the convictions would later be overturned because of the prejudice this instilled in the jurors.)

In high school, Chuck Stewart and Connie Flannery taught us history through Thomas Berger’s “Little Big Man” (and by taking us to see the Dustin Hoffman vehicle made after the book in a seedy downtown San Francisco theater), economics through Vance Packard’s books on planned obsolescence, and ecology through E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful.” In senior year, the most important lesson civics teacher John Franklin imbued us with had nothing to do with the books he had us read but came from his outlook — John always seemed amused, the twinkle in his eyes reflecting back to us what he saw in ours — and his attitude, that of a Holocaust survivor who believed in the statute of limitations, even for his persecutors. Finally there was our conservatory director Lewis Campbell, who also, through the plays he had us perform — “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “The Trojan Women,” “Waiting for Lefty,” “John Brown’s Body,” “Brecht on Brecht,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “The Zoo Story,” “The Indian Wants the Bronx,” “Spreading the News,” even “Godspell” taught us both about the toxins of racism, intolerance, injustice, and war, and the redemptive power of literature to act as a salve and maybe — maybe — an exit door leading us back to the Elysian Fields.

It was also in high school where, as the first student delegate to the San Francisco Board of Education to serve a year term, I had my virgin confrontation with the political cynics, being Red-baited when an assistant school superintendant characterized the response of the students of San Francisco to massive proposed program cuts which I’d just delivered as sounding like a ‘Socialist document.’

In France, a needed refresher course in these values — as well as a reminder that the true believer needs to persist in spite of (because of?) the Red-baiting — was delivered by the late Michel Ragon, who reminded me that no fight for social justice is fought in vain if it is waged valiantly and for principles, and who also believed in the mitigating power of art, putting the non-conformist abstract artists of the post-war period on the same moral plane and investing them with the same heroic magnitude as the anarcho-syndicalists whose stories he champions in “La mémoire des vaincus.” (And while we’re talking about the mitigating power of art — and its potential to be socially relevent without sacrificing artistic merit — ’nuff respect to Doug Wendt, who taught me the virtues of DJ ((Political)) Science.)

For five years, then, I have believed in French president Emmanuel Macron because I thought he reflected all these values, finding in him an exemplary leader in the hope-based tradition and societal aspirations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in the lineage of the ‘best and the brightest” JFK had called to serve their country, and create a better world. I have also found in our young president a teacher my teachers would have been proud of, carrying on their work (as I have tried to do) for a new generation, and despite the resistance of the Luddites. Seeing the gross unfairness and injustice with which many who claim to be on the Left have dismissively treated and dismissed him, I have even commented recently that many in France — particularly on the Left — don’t realize how lucky they are to have a president as intelligent and gifted as Emmanuel Macron. Much of that brilliance has been applied to boldly confronting — and proposing exit routes out of — problems of racism and colonialism and related injustices that have troubled France’s past (as they have troubled the American past) and, some would say, still resonate in France’s present as a problematic legacy. (Ditto.) In this respect, Emmanuel Macron was a president who would have made all my teachers proud to call their own, as he did me.

Most of all, my teachers — particularly John and oh, I almost left out, my surrogate parents Annette and Bill Clark and Eileen Darby, who taught me to express my outrage when it was called for, and my journalism teacher Katharine Swan, who gave me my first hint that this could be a metier and provide an outlet for my militance (and who also tried to teach me not to put myself at the center of the story; raté!) as well as Bill Wedemeyer, who also taught me about the mitigating power of art — most of all my teachers, as my parents, made me the relentless idealist for the world, and for the potential of politics as an engine of change, that I still try to be today, despite so much evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps this is why I am so disappointed in, so crushed by, the cynical response of Mr. Macron’s acolytes, starting with his prime minister, since Sunday’s strong showing in the first round of French parliamentary elections by the Nouvelle Union Populaire, Ecologique, et Social (NUPES), the freshly-minted alliance of French Leftist parties which finished neck and neck with Ensemble, Macron’s Centrist (some would call it Right or Center Right, but I am an inveterate optimist) alliance, with 390 of the NUPES candidates (out of a total of 577 circumscriptions) advancing to next Sunday’s final round (against about 500 for Ensemble and about 200 for the extreme-right “National Alliance”).

I am partly talking about his ministers’ fruitless and senselessly destructive calumnies of NUPES and its leader, the mercurial but brilliant Jean-Luc Melenchon, with Mr. Macron’s newly named prime minister responding to NUPES’s challenging of the Ensemble interior minister’s not including successful Leftist candidates from France’s ‘outre-mer’ territories in the NUPES column by saying Mr. Melenchon may well want to be prime minister, he’s just the “prime liar,” language and tactics not worthy of the prime minister of a great country like France, other Ensemble ministers saying the NUPES will take its marching orders from the Russians, in an unfortunate resurrection of American McCarthyism, and Mr. Macron’s last education minister reacting to a decisive defeat in the Parliamentary district into which he was ‘parachuted’ by putting the progressive NUPES alliance on the same level as the racist “National Alliance” party, saying that they pose an equal menace to the country, an electoral stratagem unfortunately set by Mr. Macron when he warned against ‘both extremes.’

But I am also talking about — and here we get back, in explaining my disappointment, to the legacy of hope and aspiration for myself and for society that Kennedy and all my teachers ‘learned me’ (as we put it in Texas) — the incredible lack of promise and aspiration in the closest thing to a positive argument that Mr. Macron’s prime minister has been able to come up with to convince French voters to choose Mr. Macron’s party in Sunday’s final round of the parliamentary elections:

What France needs most, she argues, is the “stability” promised by Mr. Macron’s alliance and his party, whose new name seems, in the face of this expressed Gestalt, almost ironic: Renaissance.

Re-naissance.

Re-birth.

I don’t see such a transformation in an electoral offer that goes no further than ‘stability.’

I see this in the NUPES program which, in its particulars and in its ensemble, was best encapsulated, in an appearance on the Radio France middle-brow chain France Inter yesterday, by the NUPES deputy (and journalist) Clementine Autan, in one word:

Emancipatory.

Emancipation from fear of the Other.

Emancipation from medical deserts, as is more and more the case in rural and semi-rural France these days (which is not to say that M. Macron is to blame). (I’ve been walking around with a gap in my front teeth for two years because the sole local dentist doesn’t accept new clients.)

Emancipation from racism (a goal, I still believe, that Mr. Macron shares with the NUPES).

Emancipation from hunger. (In the face of inflation; with some grocery prices shooting up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks, increasing numbers of families are having to choose between rent and food. Again, this is not Mr. Macron’s fault, but his government’s solution — the promise to deposit some money in the bank accounts of the most needy — does not seem as effective as the NUPES pledge to impose price restrictions on certain products of necessity.)

Emancipation from the cage imposed by the infirmities that accompany old age, and solutions — assisted living facilities that generally cost $2000/month — that are often too expensive (as is the case in the U.S., where they’re even more costly) for modest families.

Emancipation from poverty, for workers (whose minimum wage NUPES promises to increase to 1500 Euros monthly), for students (many of whom had to join the bread lines during the Covid confinement; NUPES promises a minimum survival allocation to students and young people in general) and for those of the elderly getting by on ‘petite’ pensions (which NUPES promises to augment to the poverty level, or 1063 monthly. My elderly neighbor Claudette reports that with most of her 650 Euro monthly pension going towards her husband Marcel’s retirement home bill and sunflower seeds shooting up five times to 6 euros per kilo, the ‘mesange’ birds in her garden who she likes to feed “will have to get by on larvae for a while.”).

Emancipation from a working life that leaves one too spent to enjoy retirement. (While he certainly makes a rational economic argument — and has promised this will happen in phases — Mr. Macron would like to increase the retirement age to 65; the NUPES would like to keep it at 60.)

And most of all — most of all — emancipation from cynicism, from the fatalism that is often the Frenchman’s heritage (as is optimism — some would say Candide-ism or naivité — the American’s), and the re-naissance of the holy essence of a term too often maligned here as naive:

Utopia.

The president’s new electoral strategy: Malign your opponent’s clothes

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2022 Paul Ben-Itzak

“No one imagined six months ago that the Left would be still be standing, or a match between Macron and those of us who open a path towards emancipation.”

— Clementine Autan, Deputy in the French parliament and member of the New Union Populaire, Ecologic, and Social, speaking on France Inter public radio this morning

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true.”

— Bob Dylan, “Forever Young”

SAINT-CYPRIEN (Dordogne), France — Up until last night’s first round of the French parliamentary elections — in which a coalition of Left-leaning parties finished neck-and-neck with his ruling Centrist alliance, each tallying 25 percent of the vote — I have been a staunch defender of Emmanuel Macron for five years. In response to critics on the Left who accuse the French president of representing the interests of the banks — an accusation tinged with anti-Semitism when they replace ‘the banks’ with ‘the Rothschilds’ (implicitly resurrecting the ancient racist trope that ‘the Jews control the banks’) — I have pointed out that Mr. Macron is a fervent (and in that respect earnestly emancipatory) anti-racist, not just in his words but by his acts: Replacing an education minister prone to stigmatize those who don’t share his restrictive vision of lay values with the country’s leading historian of minorities in both France and the United States, Pap Ndiaye; commissioning a report on the Algerian War and its ongoing implications from the country’s leading (and Left-leaning) historian of that epoch, Benjamin Stora; being the first president to command an investigation into the country’s stance during the Rwandan genocide; and sponsoring the entry of Franco-American performer, civil rights leader, and member of the French Resistance Josephine Baker to the storied French Pantheon which houses the remains of the country’s great men (and a handful of women).

It’s not just Mr. Macron’s committed anti-racism that mirrors my own values, but the commitment to truth in general that this represents which reflects my own, as a journalist and teacher.

Me voila greatly disappointed by the manner in which leaders of Mr. Macron’s ‘Ensemble’ coalition have chosen to react to the resurgence of a Left cavalierly declared all but dead by the mainstream media — and the threat that this resurgence represents to the ruling majority his own party has held in Parliament since 2017, and thus to its monopoly on power — represented by the strong results of the newly formed New Union Populaire, Ecologic, and Social (NUPES) in yesterday’s first-round of the country’s Parliamentary elections.

Taking their direction from the president’s own pre-election placing of what he mistakenly portrays as the ‘extreme’ Left on the same plane as the racist (my term) extreme right National Rally party lead by Marine Le Pen, to a man (and woman) his party’s leading lights and ministers (starting with the prime minister) followed the same script last night, falsely depicting the NUPES coalition lead by Jean-Luc Melenchon as ‘extreme,’ ‘radical,’ and even a menace to Republican values.

This after Mr. Melenchon, excluded in the first round of April’s presidential election in which he garnered 22 percent of the vote compared to Mr. Macron’s 28 percent and Madame Le Pen’s 23, inveighed his followers in no uncertain terms against casting a vote for Madame Le Pen in the final round of that election.

The other unfortunate distortion proffered by Mr. Macron right before the legislative elections was that the NUPES coalition — an alliance between Mr. Melenchon’s Insoumis (Unsubmissive) party, the Socialists, the Greens, and the Communists, the core of which agreement was that the alliance would field just one candidate in each of the country’s 577 circumscriptions, increasing the odds that a Left-leaning candidate would attract enough votes to proceed to next Sunday’s final round — was that its program is all about ‘interdiction.’

Let’s deal with these distortions one at a time.

The anti-Republican (or anti-Lay values) distortion stems from Mr. Melenchon and others from his party simply taking exception to a misinterpretation of France’s 1905 laicite law propagated by the neo-liberals whose most damaging result is to stigmatize the country’s Muslims; rather than interpreting the statute as one which protects the right of all citizens to practice their religion (or no religion at all), they would turn it into a variety of lay religion, which doesn’t tolerate what they see as deviations from those values. (Whence, for example, the stigmatizing of Muslim women who choose to cover their heads with scarves… while Orthodox Jewish women who cover their shaved craniums with moche wigs get off scott-free.)

As for Mr. Macron’s contention that the NUPES program is all about ‘interdiction,’ this is not the program I have before my eyes — which is all about hope and offering concrete propositions to solve the real economic and other woes currently besetting the country:

** Raising the minimum wage to 1500 Euros net, a modest increase from its current level of about 1400.

** Blocking the prices of certain products of necessity (grocery prices here have shot up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks), “to assure the food security of a growing number of families, including single-mom families, young people, and the aged.” This doesn’t sound like an interdiction to me, but rather the solution to an interdiction (the interdiction of choosing between rent and food, or of parents simply skipping a meal so that their children won’t have to suffer).

** Guaranteeing for everyone access to essential life services: lodging, water, food, Internet, electricity. (My own electricity bill shot up to nearly 1000 Euros for one recent two-month period.)

** Increasing small pensions to the level of the minimum wage (for a complete, i.e. 40 to 42 years, working life) and augmenting to the poverty level (1063 Euros) all revenues inferior to this. This would make a concrete difference to my 82-year-old neighbor Claudette (not her real name), who worked for Josephine Baker and cooked and maintained house for a former president of the French constitutional counsel and member of De Gaulle’s inner circle before she had to ‘retire’ early to take-care full-time of her own parents in her own home. Most of Claudette’s 650-Euro monthly pension now goes towards helping to pay the 2000 monthly charges of the retirement home her 91-year-old husband Marcel had to enter last year after he took a fall, on occasion reducing her to lunching on the tiny (but delectable) artichokes from her garden.

** Justement, in the face of the high costs of caring for the nation’s elders — and in the wake of recent care scandals at the country’s two largest private care facility networks, including talk of limiting the daily food allocation for residents to just over 4 Euros daily — the NUPES proposes developing a public network of affordable nursing homes.

** Ecology measures: To be honest — and to prove that I’m not just a shill for the NUPES — here the Left alliance could do a lot better, its tepid propositions not seeming all that different from those of the presidential party or even those of the Republicans, the mainstream party of the Right, the NUPES seeming most determined to avoid stigmatizing cars (there’s no mention of pollution, which kills more than 40,000 people annually in France) and hunters among a rural population which prizes both. Ditto for its Energy propositions.

Normally, equal time — and truth — would dictate that this would be the place where I’d tell you what Mr. Macron’s Ensemble coalition has proposed in these areas. Unfortunately — and as opposed to the NUPES, two of whose volunteers, Jacques and Catherine, personally handed me the election material from which I’ve gleaned the above program points — no one from the Ensemble campaign stopped by with the same. Of course, as I don’t vote in France, that’s not a fault. But simply putting the NUPES on the same level as the racist “National Rally” party — and this from the party of a genuinely anti-Racist president who should know better (Mr. Melenchon was the first to praise the ‘audacity’ of Mr. Macron’s nomination of Mr. Ndiaye as education minister) — in lieu of countering with its own ideas, at least in its initial response to the NUPES vote last night — doesn’t leave me with much alternative. Perhaps instead of maligning and mis-describing the clothes of its opponent, Mr. Macron’s party could go positive and tell us about its own offer.

I’m ready to listen. And to continue defending Mr. Macron.

The windmills of the body

If we asked you which museum has the largest collection of photographs in the world and you answered the Museum of Modern Art, you’d be wrong. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the title-holder is the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, founded by a journalist who started out with a couple of paintings by a cowboy artist, Charles M. Russell, bought on the recommendation of a cowboy philosopher, Will Rogers. Among the images going on display Saturday at the Carter, where they remain until September 11 for Black Every Day: Photographs from the Carter Collection, is, above: Harold Eugene Edgerton (1903–1990), [Gus Solomons jr], ca. 1960, gelatin silver print. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Kayafas, Concord, Massachusetts, P1991.32.9, © Estate of Harold E. Edgerton, courtesy Palm Press, Inc. (And in case you’re wondering how I got to be such a shutterbug smarty, the curators at the Carter — where admission is free, because Carter wanted local children to have the advantages he didn’t have — aren’t content with simple wall texts or exhibition catalogues; critical texts, including when I first saw this photo one by Clement Greenberg, are made available alongside the artworks.) For more by dancer, choreographer, and longtime Dance Insider senior critic Gus Solomons jr, see below.

The Best Dance Writing in the World: Gordon Spins Shakespeare in the Winds of War

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004, 2022 Gus Solomons jr

(First published, exclusively on the Dance Insider, on January 14, 2004. To find out how to obtain your own copy of The Dance Insider Archive, with more than 2000 exclusive reviews by more than 150 dancer-critics of performances from around the world, e-mail artsvoyager@gmail.com .)

NEW YORK — Playing two weekends, January 8-11 and 15-18, at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, David Gordon’s new “Dancing Henry Five: a Pre-emptive (Postmodern) Strike & Spin” condenses Shakespeare’s five-act, four-hour epic into a concise, hour long… epic, cutting out the boring dialog and spicing up the highlights with dancing.

Gordon can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and the presence of his wife and muse Valda Setterfield adds custom details. He has a flawless knack for elegant staging. And here, with a cast of seven stellar dancers (Karen Graham, Tadej Brdnik, Tricia Brouk, Todd Allen, Christopher Morgan, Daniel Smith, and Luis de Robles Tentindo), Setterfield, and the Bard as collaborators, Gordon has created a handsome handbag indeed.

Setterfield, standing atop a rolling library ladder, announces with her reassuring British voice that as narrator/chorus, she will “fill in, fill up, and fill out” Shakespeare’s tale and act as mouthpiece for Gordon’s opinions. King Henry V’s war against France is Gordon’s vehicle to rail against war in general and draw parallels — without naming names — to the imperialism of Big Brother Bush’s current administration.

The performers parade around the spacious sanctuary floor, bathed in Jennifer Tipton’s luscious light, carrying signs: “Dancing,” “Henry,” “Five,” and others, identifying themselves. They’re dressed like rugby players in striped jerseys and mismatched knee socks with dark shorts and stocking caps. Later, they don elaborate ponchos made of similar shirts sewn together a-jumble that double for battle armor and, tied around waists, courtly gowns.

Snippets of dialog from the play and from writings about it, heard on tape by such theatrical luminaries as Christopher Plummer and Laurence Olivier, weave through musical passages from William Walton’s “Henry V: Suite” and “The Wise Virgins.” Production stage manager Ed Fitzgerald controls things from his seat on the altar. The audience sits on opposite sides of the space, facing each other and the action.

Carousing at the Boar’s Head pub, the dancers play a game of catch with two red balls. The irony of the light-hearted game turns dark, when Gordon observes — through his surrogate Setterfield — that people who go to war always say God is on their side, and that if they win, that proves it, but wonders what the losers say.

With skill and imagination Gordon — a veteran of the ’60s Judson Group, which rebelled against the costumes, sets, steps, and artifice of modern dance — mines a minimal movement vocabulary and finds infinite variations in simple phrases: lunges: turned out, in, and to the side; arm gestures and simple physical shapes; pedestrian walking in intricate patterns. The simple movement always serves as metaphor for literary ideas; it never calls attention to virtuosity, although its rhythmic precision is technically rigorous.

Setterfield impersonates a dying Falstaff, while his lover, Mistress Quickly (Brouk), dances a sweet, mournful solo. Henry and his army sail for France, standing on lengths of red-striped, black fabric that get dragged across the floor. In a stately minuet Setterfield teaches English to Katherine of France (Graham), in preparation for her potential alliance with King Henry (Brdnik); with the same motif she abets their courtship.

In battle with the French, the woefully outnumbered British soldiers play a kind of musical chairs: they line up folding chairs and advance them, one by one, and run in circles; they pound their spears (wooden poles) on the ground in a brisk rhythmic tattoo, tossing dummies through the air in Tipton’s mysterious, shadowy light. Setterfield opines that the British won because the French may have decimated themselves with “friendly fire.”

The dancers lay a carpet, made of those ubiquitous striped fabric pieces, for the stately wedding procession of King Henry and Princess Katherine, and finally, the cast says a cheery “goodnight,” and we go happily into the freezing New York night.