The Radical in Me

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Not to see that the essence of humanism is to understand human history as a continuous process of self-understanding and self-realization, not just for us, as white, male, European, and American, but for everyone, is to see nothing at all.

– Edward Said

As I listen to our national fears emptied upon the world in terms beyond hyperbolic; as I watch our rhetoric become self-fulfilling prophecy before our very eyes; as I wait for whichever shoe drops next to land with a thud upon our collective psyche, each successive blow threatening to bring down the whole of the crumbling edifice of our pretension…

…I wonder…

At what point do we realize that it is our own violent language that encourages the radicalization of enemies we ourselves create every time we allow sound bites to shove aside sound judgment? Hate gives birth to hate, prejudice to prejudice. When the Trumps among us deliver pronouncements that devalue and demonize difference as difference, we should not be so surprised when difference gives way to demon, or when difference devalues us in return.

The 24-hour “news” networks have taken xenophobia to the air waves in a way not witnessed since the height of the Cold War: Radio Free Europe has morphed into Video Loose Lips. We monger fear alongside patriotism, to the point that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. And we are hoisted on our own petard. We grow so intent on destroying the Other that we do not realize that we are actually destroying ourselves.

Because, you see…we’re all somebody’s Other.

The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. If we are to insist on casting ourselves in the role of nemesis, is it any wonder that we are treated as such? Such an approach may work well on Game of Thrones, but let’s face it: what are the odds anyone actually survives it?

Faced with the specter of radicalism, at what point do we realize that the only real solution to any of our problems is to become radicalized ourselves? Not by way of guns or bombs, and not as dictated by any religion or ideology (including, I might add, the one that goes by the name of “freedom and democracy”)…but as members of one race, one global community of neighbors far and wide. We’re all in the same boat, and when it goes down, we all go down with it.

I dream of a day when our humanity is of so radical a stripe that difference as difference ceases to exist. A day when we conceive of one another only as various shades of similarity, when kinship transcends oceans, bloodlines, and political boundaries, taking in every feature, every line and crease, of a global human face. When we truly are the world, regardless of the beverage we drink.

And every time a new story hits the wires, I feel myself pushed closer and closer to that day. Underneath the anger and frustration, there is a glimmer of hope, dim though it may sometimes be.

I want to be a radical in my human being, in my humanity toward humanity. I want to be a terror to terror by offering love in the face of hate.

My enemy is my enemy because I am his enemy. I will, then, be no one’s enemy. Difference divides only if we allow it to take away from, rather than add to, who we are and who we can be. I will, therefore, subtract no one from myself.

In a world coming apart at the seams, this sort of radicalism is the only thread that can hold us all together…

Spread the word:
Open the doors!!!

Refugee

SYRIA-CONFLICT

(Photo from BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Rationalize me; patronize me;
pat me on the head–here’s a cookie go to bed–
proffer a tent from someone’s garage. I
am not a mirage: this tide never ebbs,
infinite spider, intricate web.

Security councils peddling dreams
become nightmares, garnering blank stares,
raising the hairs on the back of God’s neck.
I am the dreck, the flotsam and jetsam of
a race overrun.

Are you quite done?
Have you even begun?

Stateless, displaced, limbic, replaced–
not a trace of a life vetoed by men
and women of peace after a piece of mine.
Peel the onion; perhaps you will find that
your peace of mind is sight that’s gone blind
to itself. United you stand, dividing us all
into those who may live and those who must crawl:

I am the tired; I am the poor; I
am the huddled mass cast up on your shore.
Before dimming the light and bolting the door,
take just one more moment–an arduous chore–
to look in my face and witness a war
that rages time without end:
the war between neighbors, family, and friends

this globe is never
quite what it pretends

Heroes, Unplugged

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One of the perqs of working as a cataloger is the fact that a good portion of the library’s incoming materials crosses my desk at some point in its journey from box to shelf. Two years ago, I intercepted a book about the development of the British and Irish novel between 1880 and 1940, and as I worked it over, I discovered a wonderfully abundant bibliography at the end of the book that listed every novel discussed within its pages. As anyone who knows me even in passing can tell you (probably with a sigh), I am a bit obsessed with anything having to do with the British Isles, so I rushed down to the office photocopier and ran myself a copy. And then I started working my way through it, A to Z.

On my second outing, I hit paydirt. Which brings me to the third installment of the Big List, featuring Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero (1929). [Sidenote: Up until fairly recently, this book was out of print, hard to find, and hard on the pocketbook. However, it has just this year been released as a Penguin Classic, which you can order here for a mere $12.00.]

The 1920s were a compelling time in British literary history, as the people of the Isles struggled to come to terms with the horrors of the Great War and the swift kick to the shins it doled out to progressivist thinkers. An entire generation of men had disappeared without a trace, mowed down in the trenches of Flanders and other points along the Western Front. The inevitable tendency of human history toward the good no longer held up to social scrutiny. Into this pregnant pause stepped Aldington and others like him, men who had braved the French fields and made it home alive…and who were all too conscious of those others who did not. They were angry; they were disillusioned; they longed to give the finger to the “Dulce et Decorum” crowd and tell them they could all go to hell on a one-way train. And nobody did it better than Aldington, through his (anti-)hero George Winterbourne. So much so, that the first edition of the book was heavily censored. (Rather than bow to the demands of his publishers, Aldington insisted that the book be published with bracketed ellipses in place of the redacted text.)

Death of a Hero follows the ill-fated ramblings of young Winterbourne from his infancy onward, chronicling the sociocultural machine that oversaw his development and, ultimately, hung him out to dry. In the process, the novelist brilliantly deconstructs (and then redefines) the heroic ideal that had in turn-of-the-century Britain become synonymous with the idea of patriotism, to the point that the one was assumed to dictate the other. As the War on Terror continues to rear its ugly head around the world, spawning greater and greater conflicts even in its resolution, Aldington’s observations have become timely once again.

I leave you with one of my favorite passages from the book:

“George, though he didn’t realise it then, wasn’t going to be a bit of any damned Empire’s backbone, still less part of its kicked backside. He didn’t mind going to hell, and disgracing himself and his parents and his House and The School, if only he could go to Hell in his own way. That’s what they couldn’t stand—the obstinate passive refusal to accept their prejudices, to conform to their minor-gentry, kicked-backside-of-the-Empire code. They worried him, they bullied him, they frightened him with cock-and-bull yarns about Smut and noses dropping off; but they didn’t get him. I wish he hadn’t been worried and bullied to death by those two women. I wish he hadn’t stood up to that machine-gun just one week before the Torture ended. After he had fought the swine (i.e. the British ones) so gallantly for so many years. If only he had hung on a little longer, and come back, and done what he wanted to do! He could have done it, he could have “got there”; and then even “The School” would have fawned on him. Bloody fool! Couldn’t he see that we have only one duty—to hang on, and smash the swine?”

Happy reading!