Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Principles and Standards


Why a blog such as this?
It is my belief that cinema is a forum which inherently creates a space that is much more peaceful and composed than any negotiation table.  It is also much more democratic, and has the ability not just to transcend but forego the oversight and input of political figures on both sides of any debate.  I base this theory on the ideas written about cinema's ability to transfix, hypnotize, and subliminally suggest ideological points to the viewer by writers such as Jean-Louis Baudry and Christian Metz, as well as their antecedents, Walter Benjamin and Louis Althusser.  While these authors, most notably Althusser, had a political and sociological view of reality which could be called, in some cases, far Leftist, if not openly Marxist-Leninist, it is not to be construed that quoting any author denotes political solidarity per se; in the long history of Left Wing politics, there have been many schisms, excommunications, purges, reformations, counter-reformations, and political implosions, but none of those facts should impact the tenability of the scholarship.  Of Althusser in particular, I would quote my former professor, Dr. Vincent Bohlinger of the Rhode Island College Film Studies department, on the topic of the famed Frenchman's imprisonment for murdering his wife: "It just goes to show you can be both a genius and a truly awful person at the same time".  Just because I agree with an essay by Althusser should not be construed as a wholesale acceptance of his (now antiquated) theories of Eurocommunist organization in politics; if that were the case, every single fan of THE MATRIX films by the Wachowski Brothers should have led a revolution upon exiting the cinemas in 1999 (the basic plot of the films, about the ability of the enlightened revolutionary to transcend a 'matrix' of ideological points that deludes and pacifies the enslaved into thinking they are free, is a whole-cloth adaptation of Althusser's ideas about Ideological State Apparatuses).
But why would a goy American want to write about this topic?
Well, for several reasons.
First, my generation has been and will be defined for all history by the wars that precipitated from the attacks of 9/11/01.  Most can accept and agree that Usama bin Ladin, who most Muslims view as a heretic and false theologian with no ecclesiastical standing, utilized and took advantage of the Palestinian cause when he declared his so-called fatwa on America.  Bin Ladin never cared about the Palestinians, just as the USSR never truly did, but just like Brezhnev, it was an effective and powerful recruiting device that gained him followers.  As such, the issue of 'Middle Eastern terrorism' (terminology I find dubious for many reasons) has always been and will always be linked to the cause of Palestine, no matter how seriously the real criminals actually are about the Palestinian cause.  Only by analyzing carefully the media and its messages can we get to the root of the issue and understand the true nature of what has now been an international tragedy for 65 years and counting.
Second, on a purely theoretical level, the idea of Palestinian and Israeli cinemas, twins birthed from the same motherland, is perhaps one of the most unique types of Hegelian dialectics in the history of cinema.  These cinemas are siblings, and they represent two peoples who have as much personal emotion between each other as Cain and Abel.  While the 'peace process' has obviously floundered at this point, these twin cinemas have not just grown but blossomed into a maturity that outshines most Western films.  For example, the Israeli film WALTZ WITH BASHIR was not just an artistic and technological milestone, it took on the issues of Sabra and Shatila with a maturity and sensitivity that was unthinkable twenty years earlier.  It seems obvious to me that the Palestinian and Israeli political elites will never be interested in anything more than photo opportunities at Camp David.  But it also seems clear that, if Palestinian and Israeli film makers were to replace their government ambassadors at the UN, peace could be achieved very quickly.  And, because the Hegelian dialectic ends with the moment of synthesis, it would seem that eventually we may enter a period when we cease to see Palestinian and Israeli cinemas as distinct, but rather 'Israelistinian' or 'Palisraeli' cinema as a singular whole, which would be symbolic of a greater cultural integration, perhaps even providing the exact ideological blueprint of any sort of 'State Solution' following the end of the apartheid policies that could insure a lasting peace.
And finally, it is something that intrigues me as a film scholar.  Because of the diaspora realities of both Jewish and Palestinian people, to engage in this scholarship entails study not just of films but history, theology, political science, and languages.  This presents me with a framework to study many topics that I have always been interested in but never could find a point to coalesce them around.  It is beneficial for someone studying these cinemas to learn not just Hebrew and Arabic but also French, German, and English.  The historical role of international political ideologies, especially the Cold War, is especially intriguing, and it creates a greater understanding of the world we live in today.
Are you anti-Semitic?
It is obvious that this is a pertinent topic to address, and I would offer my own insight from my family life.
In my own family, I have three cousins who had a Jewish father.  What level of involvement they have in their father's religious orientation is not pertinent to this discussion; what matters is that, under the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany, all three of these cousins and their father would have been in a death camp, had they been living in Europe during the war.  The fact some of these cousins may have been bar mitzvahed while others chose to be Confirmed by a Roman Catholic Bishop would be meaningless to the Nazis; indeed, Edith Stein, born to Prussian Jewish parents, converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun before the Nazis sent her to Auschwitz.  In the mind of any type of racist, religious orientation, or lack thereof, has no bearing on the perception that blood heritage and descent defines character and ability.  As such, while many Jews murdered by the Nazis were much more religious, many of their first victims were secular, metropolitan Europeans that just so happened to be raised in a Jewish home.
However, by the same token, I am not philo-Semitic, the other side of the coin when dealing with racism towards Jewish people.  Philo-Semitism is just as perfidious and discriminatory towards Jews, only masked in a sheen of illogical and ultimately false adoration, the fetishizing of Judaism and Jews as related to interactions with Gentiles.  Philo-Semites are people who idealize Jews for alleged skills, be it sexual prowess, accounting talents, or placement in a Christian theological schematic about the Tribulation.  To approach any ethnic or social group with absolutely no allowance for critique and insight is inherently a statement of dogmatic preconception that effectively makes that ethnic group into 'The Other', worsening the problem of racism.
Orientalism?  What's that?
A term coined by Edward W. Said, Orientalism refers to a pattern of bigotry exhibited by Europe and the Americas over the Colonial period towards a large swathe of land that was collectively called 'The Orient' by propagandistic scholars.  It is an ideology which pits Western Europe, The United States, and Canada against a faceless horde that inhabits the rest of the planet and inhibits the flow of trade and capital for these 'developed' and 'enlightened' international economies.  It is as blatantly hateful and bigoted as anti-Semitism, and it has defined this century just as hatred of Jews defined the 19th and 20th centuries.  Despite the fact that China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Palestine, and Zimbabwe all have different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic traditions in their respective countries, Orientalism says these nations are all a unified body of under-developed tribes that need to be saved from themselves by the West and its economic ordering of multi-national trade.  While anti-Semitism has fallen to historic lows in the West, particularly in Europe and America, Orientalism and its discriminatory line of thinking continues to define not just how common citizens think about the rest of the world, it has defined war policies taken by American presidents.  The disaster of the War in Iraq under George W. Bush was caused not by greater military forces on the battlefield; rather, it is now understood from multiple accounts and testimonies that the war planners were so caught up in their own form of Orientalist thinking, they didn't bother to do basic planning for re-building Iraq after deposing the Baath Party government, to the point they assigned interns from Washington to re-structure the traffic and water systems while simultaneously allowing political hacks from the Republican Party to run operations on the ground, as opposed to military officials and diplomats.
Are you a Zionologist?
No, I am not an anti-Semite, and I find no use for Soviet anti-Semitism because falsifies the historic record.
For those who may not be familiar with the term, Zionology was a type of false scholarship promoted by the Soviet Communist Party and the KGB.  The name itself is an obvious riposte to a form of political scientific studies in the West called 'Sovietology', which sought to define the USSR as inherently Russian, cutting away the chaff of Marxist-Leninist dogmatism.  It is worthwhile to discuss Zionology because Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, studied in the USSR and wrote a Zionologist thesis that denied the Holocaust.  This sort of hate speech is detrimental to a lasting and just peace, and I find it simply useless.
That said, I do admire and agree with the 'New Historians' of Israel, who developed their scholarship as a truthful counter to what was blatant lies from Moscow.  Beginning in the 1980's, these scholars began to more thoroughly examine the history of Israel's founding and the resulting exile of Palestinians from their homelands.  Some, like Ilan Pappe, are much more to the Left than writers like Avi Schlaim.  Others, like Benny Morris, have subsequently done a U-Turn and said that you need to 'crack a few eggs to make an omelet, like the Americans had to' in regards to the Native Americans (obviating more than anything else that Morris has perhaps lost his own moral compass, but that is another discussion).  I enjoy engaging with these scholars regardless of their political affiliations, and admit to not owning one but two books by Morris, RIGHTEOUS VICTIMS (very well-regarded) and 1948: A HISTORY OF THE FIRST ARAB-ISRAELI WAR (described as 'thuggish' and vile by many of Morris's contemporaries in the academy).

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