John Nichols interviews Vincent Bugliosi re the media recount of disputed ballots in Florida in Election 2000; David Glenn reports on the wars raging over academic freedom on American college campuses; Christopher Hitchens argues that the most frightful enemy--theocratic barbarism--has come into plain view in the war on terrorism; and David Cortright takes a hard look at US sanctions against Iraq.
BIN LADEN'S BIZARRE BATTLE
San Diego, Calif.
Dilip Hiro makes many perceptive observations in "Bush and bin Laden" [Oct. 8], but the article is just as notable for what he chooses to leave out. Hiro's thesis is that "for bin Laden and Al Qaeda, attacking American targets is a means, not an end, which is to bring about the overthrow of the corrupt, pro-Washington regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan through popular uprisings."
If that is indeed his goal and these are his means, then bin Laden goes about his business in the most wrongheaded way. Most likely he would be effective if he targeted Arab regimes, but he chooses not to. Nor does it seem that he puts much trust in popular uprisings. And even if he did, he would probably not be satisfied merely with overthrowing the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian regimes. Hiro makes bin Laden look like a conventional Arab nationalist, but his goal is far more ambitious: the replacement not just of regimes but of all Arab nation-states with a pan-Islamic state based on an extreme version of the Sharia.
The full name of bin Laden's organization, of which Hiro lists only the first three words, is World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. In a February 23, 1998, declaration, bin Laden and his associates issued a fatwa making it the individual duty for every Muslim anywhere to kill Americans and their allies--civilians and military--in order to liberate the al-Aqsa and Mecca's mosques and have their armies depart all the lands of Islam (see www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm)
Bin Laden does view as his foremost enemy the United States and is even willing to hurt Muslims in order to humiliate it. He took great pride in his May 1998 interview with John Miller (see www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/interview.html) for attacking the US servicemen who sought to restore order and distribute food in Somalia, a Muslim nation, and for bringing about the collapse of their humanitarian mission. Nor is he just complaining about Israeli oppression of the Palestinians but rants about killing Jews. His support for Islamicist terror organizations from Kashmir through Chechnya shows the breadth of his ambitions. In this old-new worldview, bin Laden is still fighting the Crusaders of yore, even if in a bizarre twist he now counts Jews among the Crusaders.
Hence, the remedies Hiro suggests--withdrawal of most US troops from Saudi Arabia and addressing urgently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a worthy goal in itself--will never satisfy the bin Ladens. Even if the just solution of this conflict was reached, bin Laden could not be appeased. He would still have to be defeated.
Gershon Shafir should read my Nation piece "The Cost of an Afghan 'Victory'" [Feb. 15, 1999]. It has a fuller analysis of the February 1998 fatwa (religious decree) by bin Laden, who, by the way, is not a qualified Islamic religious-legal scholar (alim) and therefore not entitled to issue a fatwa. That article also examines the basis for the presence of US troops on Saudi soil and rejects the rationale provided by the Pentagon on three counts.
Regrettably, more than ten years after the liberation of Kuwait, what is missing is an official statement by Washington along the lines of, "On such and such day we signed an agreement with Riyadh whereby US troops are to be stationed in Saudi Arabia for a period of x years with the following aims..." If Shafir, or some enterprising American journalist, were to extract this information from the White House or the Pentagon, we will all be the wiser.
The rationale of bin Laden and his cohorts for attacks on US targets is to highlight to the pro-American regimes in the Arab world that they are resting on a foundation that is vulnerable. But the means they have employed are loathsome and inhuman, and they should be brought to justice.
Unlike Shafir, I am not privy to bin Laden's plans after he succeeds in securing the withdrawal of US troops from the Saudi kingdom. Here again, were Saudi Arabia a country where public opinion polls were allowed, we would know what sort of support or opposition there is among Saudis on the issue of US forces on their soil. Perhaps the Bush White House--that font of democracy and freedom of speech--would urgently advise the Saudi monarch to conduct such a poll so that we could all, Shafir and me included, debate the matter in an enlightened way.
LAW ENFORCEMENT: 'DISMAL FAILURE'
I count myself fortunate to be the target of one of Alexander Cockburn's milder forays into his favorite domain of slash-and-burn journalism ["Beat the Devil," Nov. 12]. His mixture of dismissive invective and anecdote leads nowhere, and when he proposes as a response reliance on law enforcement via the United Nations, without giving any indication that it has the slightest prospect of success, it seems reasonable to question his seriousness. The law enforcement model has been a dismal failure even with respect to familiar forms of terrorism, but to suppose that it can address such a massive challenge to the basic security of the leading state in the world is at best diversionary.
Come on, Professor Falk, the stakes are large and my tone was appropriately judicious. Whining about an entirely imaginary "slash and burn" onslaught is no way to defend your odd rationales for Bush's "just war." In fact I gather that you've become a tad uncomfortable with a position that has required you to cheer on the B-52s as they showered cluster bombs on "Taliban villages," as one Pentagon newsnik termed them, and with what Stephen Shalom, in an excellent demolition of your arguments on ZNet (www.zmag.org/shalomjustwar.htm) has called "Falk's strange moral logic: the U.S. war in Afghanistan is 'truly just' because the UN is incapable of acting by virtue of the U.S. unwillingness to go to the UN."
A notice ["On the Web," Nov. 5] refers readers to the "Chomsky-Hitchens debate on the roots of the terrorist attacks" on the Nation website, one of several such misleading references. There is no such debate. I responded to specific false charges on various topics, unambiguously refusing to enter into a debate in that context. The roots of the September 11 attacks were scarcely mentioned, with no disagreement that I can perceive.
'HIDING BEHIND THE SOFA'
I am surprised that Victor Navasky, in "Profiles in Cowardice" [Nov. 5], didn't mention an interview that had many of us here in Europe hiding behind the sofa in embarrassment and disgust: the Letterman/Rather interview. While not doubting the genuine emotion of Dan Rather, we were shocked at his answer to the all-important "Why?" It went something like, "These people are losers, Americans are winners, and they are jealous of our success, that's why they do these things..." What?!
The American public has trusted this man to tell them how it is for years; they look to him to inform, to educate and guide them through the difficult issues. Does this man not understand the amount of influence on public opinion he has? Much of the US media, with the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, have done the public a disservice over the past weeks.
NO TOAST TO GHOST WORLD
New York City
Much as I hate to disagree with B. Ruby Rich ["Films," Sept. 3/10], I regretted the time and money I spent on Ghost World. Endowed with consumer spending power and youth, the two attributes our culture admires most, Enid and Rebecca can find no other way to entertain themselves than to pour derision, and then inflict actual harm, on those less well endowed. I agree with Rich that "if teenagers are a society's truest barometer, then Ghost World offers a rather worrisome forecast." If wishing that the filmmakers had cast a colder eye on Enid is a wish for "prefab cynicism," then number me among the cynics. But I'd rather see the movie as the best argument I've come across for community service as a high school graduation requirement. Perhaps if Enid had spent time with some AIDS babies, she might have acquired a wider focus, one that takes in problems more serious than her own boredom. But if nothing has given her this by the time she hits high school, I think we as a culture have something serious to worry about.
POWER TO THE PUPPETS
I am 16 and have worked with the Bread and Puppet Theater for many years. I was angered by Katha Pollitt's depiction of the theater in "Subject to Debate" [Nov. 5]. The presence of Bread and Puppet would not indicate how "depressing" an event is, nor is it grounded in the 1960s. This is evidenced by its involvement in the antinuclear movement in the 1980s and its extensive global justice work in the 1990s and 2000s. The theater has continued to grow and, in fact, the time of the theater's greatest following has been in recent years.
Finally, the Bush Administration is getting serious about the fight for public opinion in the war on terrorism. To combat the Taliban's daily denunciations of the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan, the White House has set up a twenty-four-hour news bureau in Pakistan to issue a "message of the day." Top officials, after attempting to pressure Al Jazeera to tone down its anti-American programming, are now making themselves available to the news channel. Karl Rove, a senior political adviser to George W. Bush, has met with Hollywood executives to discuss how they can promote the US war effort. And most significant of all, the White House has hired Charlotte Beers, a former advertising executive who in the past helped market Uncle Ben's rice, to craft a multipronged PR campaign that, Administration officials feel confident, will help win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world.
The Administration's belated recognition of the importance of public opinion in its war effort is certainly commendable. Yet its new campaign seems likely to fall short. For in selling a product, the packaging can get you only so far; ultimately, it's the quality of the product that counts. And in this case the product, US policy, seems defective in several key respects.
For a sense of them, one need only consult the daily fare on Al Jazeera. First, the channel features much criticism of Washington's role in the Middle East, especially its support for repressive governments. Then there's the nightly footage of the US bombing raids over Afghanistan, with frequent images of civilians who've been injured or killed in them. Finally, there's the ongoing coverage of Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza, full of clips of Palestinian civilians--including many children--shot by Israeli soldiers.
The impact of the Palestinian issue, in particular, cannot be emphasized enough. Earlier this year, Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, commissioned a survey of public opinion in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Lebanon. Most of those polled ranked the Palestinian issue as the most important one for them personally. Of course, some argue that to take up that issue would be to reward terrorism, but that's not a reason to avoid what we should have been doing anyway.
If the White House really wants to make headway in its battle for public opinion, it would appoint not Charlotte Beers but a new special envoy to the Middle East whose main task would be to press the two sides to resume negotiations. To fully capitalize, the Administration would assign a camera crew to shadow the envoy on his trips to the region, and it would make the resulting footage immediately available to Al Jazeera and other Arab outlets. To help out, Bush would make frequent statements about the need for both sides in the conflict to put aside their differences and work toward an agreement. And, while he was at it, the President would make clear America's determination to develop a plan to help the nations of the Middle East overcome the political stultification and economic backwardness that have made life so wretched for so many.
Bush actually had a prime opportunity to do that on November 10, when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly. With dozens of world leaders present, the President spent most of his twenty-two-minute speech reiterating his familiar message about the evils of terrorism and the urgent need to fight it. Only briefly did he refer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while he committed his Administration to "working toward the day when two states--Israel and Palestine--live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders," he also warned against those "trying to pick and choose...terrorist friends"--a clear reference, as Karen DeYoung noted in the Washington Post, to "his calls for a Palestinian rejection of anti-Israel militants."
As DeYoung further reported, some delegates questioned Bush's decision to focus almost entirely on the fight against terrorism, "largely ignoring the issues of poverty and underdevelopment that are their biggest concern." While all the other leaders who addressed the assembly condemned the September 11 attacks, most "spent major portions of their speeches calling for action on other world problems." Several times during the President's speech, DeYoung added, he appeared to pause for a reaction, but there was none; only when he finished did the delegates applaud, and then only "politely."
Isn't it comforting to know that Charlotte Beers is hard at work on the case?
Muhammed Butt, a 55-year-old laborer from Pakistan who was detained for a day as a terrorist suspect after September 11 and then imprisoned for a month on a simple visa violation, was said by authorities to have died of a heart attack. In fact, his heart was misshapen from birth and his coronary arteries were blocked. Wrongly suspected of anthrax exposure and isolated from the world, he was overcome by the stress. As a doctor, I can say that in all ways, he was a man who died of a broken heart.
Muhammed Butt's death illustrates a central problem that is the direct consequence of a zealous backlash against terrorism. Hundreds of people are rounded up without justification, and once interned, they are kept for weeks behind bars without ready access to their families or to lawyers. It is hard to imagine a situation better designed to produce severe stress and depression.
Butt worked all his life as a laborer, often traveling between oil fields in Qatar and Dubai to provide for his family. Last year he came to New York on a temporary visitor visa. His goal, as it often is for those who leave their families behind, was to send home money for his three daughters' weddings and to give his two sons the opportunities in life he'd never had. But he was only able to find odd jobs, first in a deli, later stacking boxes and waiting on tables in a restaurant in Queens. His nephew, Muhammad Bilal Mirza, a longtime resident of Brooklyn, gave him cash whenever he could, but he couldn't drive a taxi like his nephew because he didn't know how to drive.
Mirza describes his uncle as a large man. His picture shows a broad face featuring oversized, oblong ears, a rough, pear-shaped nose and small, squinty, suspicion-raising eyes. He was graying visibly and gaining shadows and lines from rapid aging mixed with worry. Mirza says his uncle never complained of not feeling well. Not long before September 11, he told his nephew that he was considering giving up and returning to Pakistan.
In late September a local pastor reported to the FBI that several men who had arrived in two vans had entered Butt's residence, leading the FBI to investigate. Butt was arrested for overstaying his visa, but, finding nothing to interest them, the FBI turned Butt over to the INS after holding him only one day. Meanwhile, knowing that his uncle had been arrested, Mirza tried to obtain a lawyer, but couldn't afford the $7,000 fee the lawyer quoted. For the next month, the INS held Butt in the Hudson County, New Jersey, jail pending his deportation, during which time Mirza tried unsuccessfully to locate his uncle. Alan Apselbaum, a prison social worker, said that prisoners may call collect on pay telephones inside the prison. "I have no idea why Mr. Butt didn't call anyone," he said.
On October 1 Butt underwent a routine physical. His blood pressure and medical findings were normal, but the dentist started him on an antibiotic for gingivitis. Dr. Francis Molinari, a prison doctor, said that the guards and other prisoners were worried that Butt might have been handling anthrax because he was now taking antibiotics--despite the fact that the antibiotics had been prescribed by a prison dentist--and Butt was compelled to undergo a nasal swab test for anthrax. Dr. Molinari tried to downplay the persecution and isolation experienced by Butt and others. "It's calm here," he said. "Nothing strange is going on."
However calm Butt may have appeared, not complaining of chest pain or anything else, his stress was apparently building. On October 23 he rose as usual before dawn, ate breakfast and passed several hours on his cot, where he was found dead just before 11 am. The New Jersey state medical examiner, Dr. Faruk Presswalla, like many pathologists a keen puzzle-solver after the fact, said, "The stress must have killed him. He already had a bad heart, even if it never affected him before. His coronaries were 70 percent blocked and one of the coronary sinuses was missing. His heart wasn't made to handle a crisis." The seasoned coroner found no sign of trauma, anthrax or even gingivitis, which may have been cured by the antibiotic. "This man was basically healthy," he said. "He could have lived a long time even with his heart like this."
Mirza learned of his uncle's death from the Pakistani consulate, which had been notified by the INS. He also heard from the lawyer he had contacted after Butt's detention. Mirza recalls, "I tell him, 'What kind of help you bring him now?'" At the ceremony of remembrance, he joined irate friends circulating a petition to protest Butt's long internment. This petition was presented to the Pakistani ambassador, in the hope that it could be sent to the State Department and would lead to changes in INS policy. Butt's body was shipped back to Pakistan, and according to Mirza, Butt's wife said she wanted nothing to do with the United States ever again.
Restricting freedom in the name of freedom, our intelligence community risks forgetting why our society chose to call itself free in the first place. Hundreds of people like Butt have been rounded up because of someone's suspicions and remain in prison awaiting deportation. Not charged with a real crime or provided access to lawyers, these people must be deported promptly or freed, or many will languish, and more will die. Our agencies must not terrorize innocent people in their search for terrorists.
Mirza, a US citizen for fifteen years, still says he's proud to be an American: "American people have a wonderful heart. All Americans suffer now and pray for the people who have died." Mirza halts in his speech, listening, wanting to be believed, afraid that because of his uncle he will be lumped into a group that is automatically mistrusted. Mirza says sadly that he has been burning vigil candles since September 11 and volunteering at the Family Assistance Center in Manhattan. "All who died," he says, "are innocent."
In what may be the (belated) final act of the Florida miselection saga, a consortium of major media outlets anointed George W. Bush the beneficiary--though not necessarily the winner--of their ten-month, $900,000 joint review of 175,000 ballots that were not included in Katherine Harris's official count. Bush gained because most of the consortium's participants emphasized one slice of their review--the finding that had the US Supreme Court not infamously halted the recount ordered by the state Supreme Court, Bush still would have squeaked past Al Gore by more than 400 votes, instead of 537. The front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal, a consortium member, was typical: "In Election Review, Bush Wins Without Supreme Court Help." Yet the header on the inside page was a better summation of the ballot project: "Final Tally in Florida Yields Mixed Results."
The true story is that the Florida mess cannot be definitively sorted out. That's no news flash, since the Florida election exposed numerous problems in vote tallying and demonstrated that the system was not up to collating accurately 6 million ballots in a 50-50 race. As the consortium--which included the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, AP, CNN and others--reported, there were several ballot-counting scenarios that placed Gore in the narrowest of leads (between 42 and 171 votes). Each of these was based on reviews of untallied ballots statewide, including undervotes (ballots not registering a presidential preference when tabulated) and overvotes (those on which counting machines detected more than one vote, as when someone selected a candidate and also wrote in the same candidate). But the Gore campaign, hoping to cherry-pick enough votes to slip past Bush, requested recounts only of undervotes in four heavily Democratic counties. It ignored the undervotes elsewhere and did not ask for hand counts of overvote ballots (which, it now seems, contained more uncounted Gore votes than did the undervote ballots). Gore and his crew waved the banner, "Let every vote count," but their legal strategy did not match the rhetoric. If Gore had pushed principle rather than relying on tactics, the headlines might be different today, for what that's worth. The consortium review also suggests that Bush's legal plan--an antidemocratic strategy of opposing all recounts--was excessive, leading him to an uglier victory than was necessary.
It's important to keep in mind that the numbers tossed out by the consortium are wisps. They don't provide the basis for sweeping declarations (like "the US Supreme Court had nothing to do with the outcome," or "Gore was robbed of victory"). They're based on various assumptions. For instance, the what-if-the-Supremes-had-not-butted-in scenario--which produces a slender Bush lead--assumes that four counties that had declared their refusal to recount ballots would have maintained that position. But suppose the state Supreme Court had forced them to conduct a recount. The consortium doesn't say what the results would have been. And, as the consortium acknowledges, it was a challenge for it to identify, months after the fact, the undervote and overvote ballots not tallied on Election Day. Conceivably, its 153 ballot inspectors--fielded by the National Opinion Research Center--may have missed a handful of ballots. (On only one out of seven ballots examined did the consortium discern an actual vote, under its most inclusive standards.) With the margin of victory in the consortium review swinging between .003 percent for Gore and .008 percent for Bush, any one error could have flipped the findings.
The consortium produced the perfect split decision. Bush (probably) would have won by the rules Gore advocated; Gore (probably) was preferred by several dozen more voters. But on each side, the point spreads are too slim to mean much or settle anything. The consortium effort does offer other valuable information. The review found that precincts with African-American majorities rejected ballots at much higher rates than did white precincts. Hispanic precincts and those with large elderly populations also had high discard rates. The data do not identify the cause--likely a combination of older machines, poorly trained election workers and a higher number of less-educated voters--but they suggest that vote-counting, intentionally or not, had a racial and age bias. The consortium's report strengthens the arguments for electoral reform. Florida did pass a measure, which was criticized by voting-rights advocates, and Congress and other states have been lollygagging.
The inconclusive conclusions of the consortium do not disperse the fog shrouding the election. Ascertaining the hard-and-fast results (or what should have been the results) of the Florida election remains virtually impossible. Still, it's not difficult to demonstrate that the wrong guy triumphed. The consortium's scenario calculators did not take into account the butterfly ballot of Palm Beach County or the similarly confusing ballot of Duval County. In each instance, thousands of voters errantly double-marked ballots for Gore and a minor candidate or Bush and a minor candidate. No official recount would have been able to include these self-invalidating ballots, so the consortium left them out of its equations. Which was reasonable.
Yet it did confirm what had been previously reported--that these ballot screw-ups cost Gore thousands of votes. The Washington Post says Gore may have lost up to 8,000 votes in Palm Beach and 7,000 in Duval County. The Los Angeles Times reports that Gore was shortchanged by up to 9,000 votes in Palm Beach and 3,000 in Duval County. The Palm Beach Post maintains that he might have missed out on 6,000 votes in its county. All these numbers overwhelm the two- or three-digit margins of every consortium scenario. With or without the consortium, the picture is clear: Gore was favored by several thousand more Florida voters than Bush. That is nearly undeniable--yet that reality could not be reflected in the numbers of the official count, the recounts or the unofficial reviews. It has also not been acknowledged by the fellow who, without shame, accepted the benefits conveyed by a faulty system. In other words, you don't need a consortium to know which way the wind blew--or to know that the man in the White House is there, legitimately or not, by mistake.
As the Taliban were retreating under the combined assault of opposition forces, it was ever more evident that the Bush Administration had undertaken an assault of its own, on the Bill of Rights, that is likely to outlast the war. The troubling news of an executive order quietly issued on October 26 by Attorney General Ashcroft that would eliminate attorney-client confidentiality for terrorist suspects was trumped only days later by a sweeping presidential directive allowing closed-door military trials for noncitizens charged with terrorism either abroad or at home. In language of chilling breadth, the order authorizes drumhead tribunals with few rights for the accused, imprisonment and death sentences--not only for present or former members of Al Qaeda but for any noncitizen accused of aiding or abetting "acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefore that have caused, threaten to cause...injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy." The order is being sold as an expedient means of settling affairs with Osama bin Laden should he be pulled from an Afghan cave, but in language and design it completely removes from the protective penumbra of the Constitution all noncitizens, including those among the more than 1,000 people detained in the United States in the post-September 11 dragnet. And given Ashcroft's announcement that the Justice Department intends to question more than 5,000 foreign-born men who have legally entered the country since January 1, 2000, that number may well grow.
These new measures would be worrisome enough under any circumstances, but their real danger comes from the context of other powers granted the Administration by Congress or seized by presidential fiat in recent weeks--most often at the expense of courts or the press, the usual avenues for scrutiny. The USA PATRIOT Act removed layers of judicial review from wiretaps, expanded the authority of government agents for black-bag jobs and gave federal prosecutors unprecedented access to previously secret grand jury investigations. Then there is USA PATRIOT's broad definition of terrorism, which, as Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU, points out, is expansive enough to permit the Justice Department to go after activists and dissenting editorialists on subjects as diverse as the World Trade Organization and Vieques. Add to the mix Ashcroft's gutting of the Freedom of Information Act, Bush's removal of former Presidents' papers from the public domain and the Administration's general hostility to press inquiry, and a picture emerges of an Administration with a contempt for basic American civil liberties and the rule of law.
Bush and Ashcroft know these are emotional times. The shock of September 11 was reinforced first by the anthrax scare, then by the crash on November 11 of an American Airlines jet bound for the Dominican Republic--a crash apparently unrelated to terrorism but still stirring another wave of public anxiety. Repeated trauma plays on the collective nervous system of the nation, all the more so with the FBI at apparent dead ends in the Al Qaeda and anthrax investigations. But the very power of those emotions makes more dangerous the stripping away of constitutional review and offers more reason to resist the illusory and exploitative quick-fix represented by the Administration's assault on civil liberties.
The media consortium review of disputed Florida presidential ballots concluded that George W. Bush would have won the recount the US Supreme Court blocked. So is the debate on the Court's intervention over? No way, says Vincent Bugliosi, the trial lawyer who wrote The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President (Nation Books). He spoke with Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols.
THE NATION: Does the consortium's conclusion absolve the Justices?
BUGLIOSI: Of course not. George Bush was inaugurated on January 20 not because of any finding that he had won Florida after a count of all valid undervotes; he was inaugurated solely because of the Supreme Court's ruling on December 12. The consortium's report does not change that reality at all. The finding by the consortium that Bush would have won a recount is totally, completely, utterly irrelevant.... No one claims the Justices were clairvoyant. So to judge these Justices by the final result--i.e., by the findings of the consortium, which I have no reason not to accept, rather than by their intentions at the time they engaged in their conduct--would be like exonerating someone who shoots to kill if the bullet happens to miss the victim.
THE NATION: But if you accept a review that says Bush would have won the recount, is it right to say that the Court "stole" the election for Bush?
BUGLIOSI: Let me offer an illustrative example: If the Los Angeles Lakers are leading the Boston Celtics by two points in the last game of the NBA playoffs with one minute to go, and suddenly the referee stops the game and hands the title to the Lakers, anyone would say the referee stole the NBA championship for the Lakers. Who would make the preposterous argument that if the Lakers and Celtics had played the game out the Lakers would win anyway, so what difference does it make what the referee did? Bush winning a media recount has nothing at all to do with the fact that the Justices intervened inappropriately to steal an election--and in so doing committed one of the most serious crimes in American history. The two realities are independent of each other.... A 5-year-old could see that, even if most of the media cannot.
THE NATION: So Bush remains a selected, not elected, President?
BUGLIOSI: Precisely. And we cannot have the Supreme Court picking our President--which is exactly what happened here--whether or not their pick ended up to be correct.
THE NATION: Since September 11, many voices that had taken up your call to impeach the Justices have gone silent. Will history, as well, be silent on this issue?
BUGLIOSI: Obviously September 11 dealt a solar plexus blow to this whole movement.... But I think that in the dispassionate light of the future, history is going to be harsh on us. We already know the moral bankruptcy and the destitution of character of these five Justices. They have proven that. But if we Americans meekly allow what the Court did to stand, without demonstrating our absolute outrage, what does that say about our character? I think history is going to be harsh not just on the Supreme Court but on the American people for allowing this to happen without marching in the streets. History will say we should have been in the streets.
When 21-year-old Fernando Jiménez Molina failed to return from his job delivering pizzas two blocks from the collapsed twin towers on September 11, his roommates, also undocumented immigrants, made the grim decision to warn his mother, Nora Elsa Molina, in Mexico. Then they headed for Asociación Tepeyac, a Mexican community organization that emerged as the city's alternative emergency system for the immigrant workers, families and binational communities whose lives and livelihoods lay buried beneath the smoldering rubble.
While these September 11 victims slipped through the cracks in federal relief systems, Tepeyac shifted into crisis mode as soon as the first workers covered with soot and ash stumbled into its office. Arnulfo Chino Rojas "appeared like a ghost, stricken with sadness and pain, frightened and white with dust," said a staff member. Arnulfo squeezed time from his long hours as a waiter at the World Trade Center to teach Mexican dance classes for the association. He and the other dazed workers who converged on the center soon joined Tepeyac's director, Joel Magallán, a Jesuit priest, in cobbling up an emergency response system.
"Undocumented immigrants are the invisible workers and victims of the disaster," says Brother Joel. Tepeyac, a network of forty Mexican organizations in the city and upstate New York, has firsthand knowledge of sixty-three desaparecidos, sixty-five small-business closings and 3,095 lost jobs, roughly half of which were held by undocumented workers in and around the trade center. The disappeared came from Mexico and several other countries. Many immigrants worked seventy- and eighty-hour weeks at subminimum wages or off the books for cash in restaurants, cafes, bakeries, hotels, for custodial companies, cleaning shoes, selling flowers and newspapers, and ascending the twin towers to deliver coffee, newspapers, flowers and gifts.
Brother Joel insists, "The only way we can know for sure who is missing is for the employers to cooperate. They are the ones who have lists of who was working for them, documented or undocumented. But the employers are afraid that they will be penalized. We want the INS to waive employer sanctions so companies can come forward."
Frantic family members and co-workers flooded Tepeyac with local and international calls. As word of the group's good deeds spread, AFL-CIO unions, churches, community organizations, businesses and individuals donated $35,000, which Tepeyac quickly dispensed to victims and their families. The organization is now working with the Red Cross and Safe Horizon to obtain further relief and has dispatched volunteers as far as Guatemala and El Salvador to test relatives with DNA kits so that the remains of loved ones can be identified.
"Jane," who asked that her real name be withheld, turned to Tepeyac after two lengthy visits to the Family Assistance Center on Pier 94 left her empty-handed because she could not produce a pay stub. She worked as a nanny to a 4-year-old before her employers disappeared on September 11. A member of Freedom and Unity Among Pilipina Workers, Jane groaned, "What domestic worker do you know gets a pay stub?" Thanks to Tepeyac's intervention, Jane finally received a $50 grocery voucher and the promise of Red Cross vouchers of $300 for rent and $250 for emergency cash for one month. Joining the tens of thousands of immigrants who have lost their jobs in recent weeks, Jane wonders how she will support herself, her husband and two children back home once the emergency funds run out. Like all undocumented workers, she is not eligible for FEMA assistance or unemployment benefits.
Immigrant communities, hard-hit by recession and lacking the cushion of a safety net, are also gripped with fear as the Bush Administration recasts immigration policy within the framework of national security and the war on terrorism. Before September 11, patient community education, organizing, coalition-building and lobbying for humane immigration policies had begun to bear fruit, especially with the AFL-CIO's shift last year toward opposing employer sanctions and calling for unconditional amnesty for undocumented workers. After Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit here this past summer, George W. Bush and Congressional leaders had begun to discuss a limited program of "phased legalization"--although this was coupled with an exploitative guest-worker program without a guarantee of permanent residency--while Congressman Luis Gutierrez had crafted progressive legalization legislation. Now the amnesty debate is on hold in Washington, and community groups are steeling themselves for reversals on hard-fought battles against Border Patrol violence, INS raids and detentions and racial profiling. Catherine Tactaquin, director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, says, "We're hit with a revival of historic patterns of fear, hatred, of fingering immigrants as threats to national security."
On October 24 more than a hundred displaced workers jammed into Judson Memorial Church for a meeting convened by Tepeyac with relief agencies. Among them were Mexicans, Dominicans, Peruvians, Ecuadoreans, Colombians, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Filipinos, Koreans, Bangladeshis. Brother Joel asked whether anyone was willing to risk speaking to the press. A sea of hands shot up. Why shouldn't we be entitled to the same relief as other New Yorkers during the city's hour of need--papers or no papers? they asked. Many wept when Luz María Mendoza appealed to Governor Pataki for full legalization. She has yet to find the remains of her husband, Juan Ortega, who worked in a restaurant at the WTC and left behind three small children.
Isn't it time to join Mendoza in the call for legalization? Shouldn't widows like her, mothers like Molina and displaced workers like Arnulfo and Jane finally be allowed some relief as they deal with their grief?
Sadly, the old slander that a liberal is someone who has never been mugged is turning out to be true.
'Don't hold your mail so close to your face," my neighbor warned me sharply in the elevator. I assured her no anonymous anthraxer could have any interest in me. "Well, sure," she agreed, rather readily I must say, "but it could be cross-contaminated." Right. Planes and people are falling out of the sky, the World Trade Center is sixteen acres of smoldering rubble and twisted girders, a hospital worker living quietly in the Bronx dies mysteriously of inhalation anthrax for which every possible origin seems to be ruled out, the air downtown has a smell no one wants to give a name to. This crispest, clearest, most beautiful New York City autumn ever is a paranoid's dream come true.
"Unbelievable" was the entire text of the first e-mail to cross my screen on the morning the city woke to find it had elected the bumptious billionaire Michael Bloomberg Mayor by a narrow 30,000 votes. By midday, the incredible had become the inevitable: In retrospect, it seems, nothing was more obvious than that Mark Green would slide to humiliating defeat from a double-digit lead a mere two weeks before Election Day. Suddenly, it turned out to matter that Bloomberg, who refused to participate in the campaign finance system, spent a rumored $60 million of his own immense fortune on the race, although his free spending on everything from ads and mailings to hats and high-placed academics was widely mocked as a textbook demonstration of what happens to a fool and his money. Suddenly, too, personality turned out to count: Green was arrogant, obnoxious, cold and full of hubris. Against an ordinary opponent his missteps might not have mattered, but Bloomberg's millions bought him an echo chamber in which they could resonate endlessly, while his own considerable vanity--not to mention accusations of sexual harassment--went unexplored by a preoccupied press.
Mostly, though, postelection analyses focused on race. I still don't understand why it was racist for Green supporters to make hay--in fliers the Green campaign denied any connection with--out of the fact that the Rev. Al Sharpton endorsed Freddy Ferrer, Green's chief opponent in the Democratic Party primary, or for Green to produce ads quoting the New York Times calling Ferrer "borderline irresponsible" in his approach to fiscal policy post-9/11, with the tagline "We can't afford to take a chance." Sharpton's an opportunistic if sometimes entertaining scoundrel who has had prominent roles in several notorious episodes--the Tawana Brawley hoax, the picketing of Korean grocers, the lethal violence at Freddy's Fashion Mart in Harlem in 1995. Why was it out of bounds to publicize Ferrer's alliance with Sharpton, any more than it is anti-Christian, or anti-Southern white for progressives to attack George W. Bush for accepting the support of the anti-Semitic lunatic Pat Robertson?
Resentful Green supporters spin their man's defeat as the overwhelming of class politics (good) by identity politics (bad). "The American left has been beating itself up about race since the 1960s," Craig Kaplan, prominent lawyer about town and passionate Green supporter, told me by phone. "To me, that's narrow nationalistic claptrap." Maybe--and maybe it's politically manipulated claptrap, too; interestingly, Ferrer made nothing of Bloomberg's history of membership in all-white clubs. Still, after Green's defeat it's hard to maintain, as the self-styled "economic left" likes to do, that identity politics have a narrow appeal and can be safely ignored in favor of universal issues like campaign finance reform, healthcare, public transportation, schools. We New Yorkers may feel united by the season's tragedies and horrors, but we still live in a largely segregated city, in which those universal issues are bound to be filtered through a racial and ethnic prism. Ferrer was no Harold Washington, and I doubt he would have done much to improve life in the "other New York" he claimed to represent. But at least he acknowledged its existence.
Another problem with the "economic left" analysis is that it assumes Green pitched his candidacy to the economic left of Bloomberg. In fact, both candidates hurled themselves squarely toward the middle, and some of the issues on which they differed--Bloomberg, for example, said kind words about private sector solutions to public school problems--played out in a funny cross-class way: Many poor black and Hispanic parents long to extract their children from the terrible public schools to which they are consigned. From their perspective, it's not so obvious that the teachers' union, which supported Green, is on the side of the angels. Activist liberals who had worked with Green for years knew, or thought they knew, that his politics were progressive, even as he distanced himself from old allies like Ralph Nader, called for the abolition of parole and vowed he'd be "tight as a tick" when it came to social spending. Rightly or wrongly, Green's progressive supporters tended to assume his centrism came with a wink wink, nudge nudge in their direction, but what if you were out of the loop? What if all your information about the race came from television in October? By choosing a moderate campaign, Green couldn't make an argument for the politics progressives thought he had, while opening himself to charges that he was a chameleon.
If you put Green's campaign together with Mark Warner's victory in the Virginia governor's race and Jim McGreevey's in New Jersey--both touted as showing the Democratic Party making a comeback--it's hard to feel there's much room in the electoral field for standard-issue Democratic progressive politics. Warner ran as a moderate Republican with a healthy fear of the National Rifle Association; McGreevey, as a normal suburbanite against a far-right ideologue. Would Green have done better if he had moved left and not right, had he embraced the other New York instead of lecturing it on the need for unity--around him? We'll never know. Meanwhile, since politics seems to be the only line of work for which lack of experience is a qualification, it's not so surprising--in retrospect!--that in the end New Yorkers chose to write a comic-opera ending to the autumn's tragedies and put into Gracie Mansion a bon vivant too rich to want to live there.
I so distrust the use of the word zeitgeist, with all its vague implications of Teutonic meta-theory. But on Veterans Day I had to work full time on myself in order to combat the feeling of an epochal shift, in which my own poor molecules were being realigned in some bizarre Hegelian synthesis. I should perhaps confess that on September 11 last, once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery. On examination, and to my own surprise and pleasure, it turned out be exhilaration.
It's very hard to estimate
Just what it takes to stimulate
A corporation, but we know
These people need a lot of dough,
And so, if no one else objects,
We'll cut them some humongous checks.
But stimulating them is tough.
A billion may not be enough
To spur a corporation while
It keeps its CEO in style.
It's possible we should explore
Some way that we can give them more.
We may just give them all we've got:
It takes a lot to get them hot.
Scientists as well as financial analysts caution that gene therapies may never come to fruition.Yet in an elaborate effort to insure that the genetic icon will not lose its luster, an international group of profit-minded and ideological biotech advocates has been pushing self-serving and, critics say, error-laden predictions in innocuous mainstream and even avant-garde exhibit halls, books and websites. Vital to the plan's success, according to its architects, is that the influence behind these productions remain hidden.
The organizers of the Globalization and Resistance Conference, held at the City University of New York's Graduate Center on November 16 and 17, had a very bad stroke of luck.
As world leaders convened at the 56th Session of the General Assembly of the UN in early November, the main topic of discussion was the fight against terrorism.
The 2000 presidential election, with more than 105 million votes cast, involved: five weeks of political and legal maneuvering; what many view as an arbitrarily imposed Supreme Court constitutiona
A few items should have received more (some!) emphasis in last week's media recount reports (we will continue to expand on these points in the coming days, on the Steve Cobble
To: The Foreign Policy Therapist
From: The United States of America
Date: November 12, 2001
Dear Foreign Policy Therapist,
I don't know what to do. I want to be safe. I want safety. But I have a terrible problem: It all began several weeks ago when I lost several thousand loved ones to a horrible terrorist crime. I feel an overwhelming need to apprehend and punish those who committed this unbearably cruel act, but they designed their crime in such a diabolical fashion that I cannot do so, because they arranged to be killed themselves while committing the crime, and they are now all dead. I feel in my heart that none of these men, however, could possibly have planned this crime themselves and that another man, who is living in a cave in Afghanistan, must surely have done so. At any rate I know that some people he knows knew some of the people who committed the crime and possibly gave them some money. I feel an overwhelming need to kill this man in the cave, but the location of the cave is unknown to me, and so it's impossible to find him. He's been allowed to stay in the cave, however, by the fanatical rulers of the country where the cave is, Afghanistan, so I feel an overwhelming need to kill those rulers. As they've moved from place to place, though, I haven't found them, but I've succeeded in finding and killing many young soldiers who guarded them and shepherds who lived near them. Nonetheless, I do not feel any of the expected "closure," and in fact I'm becoming increasingly depressed and am obsessed with nameless fears. Can you help me?
To: The United States of America
From: The Foreign Policy Therapist
Dear United States,
In psychological circles, we call your problem "denial." You cannot face your real problem, so you deny that it exists and create instead a different problem that you try to solve. Meanwhile, the real problem, denied and ignored, becomes more and more serious. In your case, your real problem is simply the way that millions and millions of people around the world feel about you.
Who are these people? They share the world with you--one single world, which works as a unified mechanism. These people are the ones for whom the mechanism's current way of working--call it the status quo--offers a life of anguish and servitude. They're well aware that this status quo, which for them is a prison, is for you (or for the privileged among you), on the contrary, so close to a paradise that you will never allow their life to change. These millions of people are in many cases uneducated--to you they seem unsophisticated--and yet they still somehow know that you have played an enormous role in keeping this status quo in place. And so they know you as the enemy. They feel they have to fight you. Some of them hate you. And some will gladly die in order to hurt you--in order to stop you.
They know where the fruits of the planet, the oil and the spices, are going. And when your actions cause grief in some new corner of the world, they know about it. And when you kill people who are poor and desperate, no matter what explanation you give for what you've done, their anger against you grows. You can't kill all these millions of people, but almost any one of them, in some way, some place, or some degree, can cause damage to you.
But here's a strange fact about these people whom you consider unsophisticated: Most of the situations in the world in which they perceive "injustice" are actually ones in which you yourself would see injustice if you yourself weren't deeply involved. Even though they may dress differently and live differently, their standards of justice seem oddly similar to yours.
Your problem, ultimately, can only be solved over decades, through a radical readjustment of the way you think and behave. If the denial persists, you are sure to continue killing more poor and desperate people, causing the hatred against you to grow, until at a certain point there will be no hope for you. But it's not too late. Yes, there are some among your current enemies who can no longer be reached by reason. Yes, there are some who are crazy. But most are not. Most people are not insane. If you do change, it is inevitable that over time people will know that you have changed, and their feeling about you will also change, and the safety you seek will become a possibility.
Death rates are alarming but lower than claimed. Saddam shares responsibility.
The presence of US troops on Saudi Arabia's holy sand seems to have truly enraged fanatics and spurred Osama bin Laden to his atrocities, but another sore point with many Saudis has received far less attention: the obscene, almost comical corruption involving the arms trade and the royal family. Currently the top importer of weapons in the world, Saudi Arabia spends 40 percent of its import dollars on weapons, including $40 billion worth bought from the United States in the past twelve years. "Huge military contracts are burning the money," explains London-based Saad al-Fagih of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a moderate Saudi dissident organization. "That is an important reason of resentment by the people against the regime."
Adding to the outrage, it's an open secret that Saudi Arabia nonetheless "remains unable to defend itself," as the Federation of American Scientists puts it. In the scenarios batted around in Washington, the kingdom's chief potential enemies are Iran, whose military expenditures are about a quarter of Saudi Arabia's, and Iraq, which spends even less. "We don't have the capability of defeating Iran or Iraq," one Saudi acknowledges. "We rely on the United States. That's the philosophy."
The US philosophy is to guarantee the kingdom's safety while also making sure the Saudis buy the best of everything, at top dollar. Saudi arms purchases are so vital to the US economy that they have even played a role in politics. During the 1992 presidential campaign, for example, first Bill Clinton and then later Bush I appeared at rallies at the McDonnell Douglas plant to support the sale of F-15s to the Saudis. The deal had been heavily promoted in a "jobs now" campaign.
Concerns about massive corruption behind many deals have dissidents stewing. They say it spurs the ruling family to buy unnecessary military equipment at inflated prices. "They see this conspiracy of looting the country of its resources with these military contracts," says al-Fagih, "to suck the cash from the country." Corruption, he alleges, starts at the top, with Defense Minister Prince Sultan. "What happens is everybody is on the take," says one former US official who worked on a contract with the Saudi Defense Ministry after his retirement. To do business in the country, a company needs an agent. "Everything," says the former official, "depends on who is the prince behind the agent." Key princes all have their spheres of influence. Mohammed Al-Khilewi, a Saudi diplomat who defected to an embarrassed United States in 1994, told Middle East Quarterly in 1998: "The Saudis are brazen about taking commissions and breaking American law. Examine closely the terms of agreement and you will see that the costs are always at least twice the fair market price." In reality, that's not necessarily the case, but it's easy to get that impression from the confusing mathematics of weapons deals. Take that $9 billion deal for seventy-two F-15 fighters. The cost averages out to $125 million per plane, compared with the initial price tag of $34 million per plane. The extra $90 million per plane was for hundreds of missiles and hours of training, spare parts and maintenance.
All the gear the Saudis buy requires constant maintenance and upgrading. Saudi Arabia is not a developed country with a skilled work force, so, as Jane's Defense Weekly has reported, there is an almost total reliance on expatriate personnel. The number of foreign contract workers in Saudi Arabia's military is estimated to be 14,000, roughly equal to the manpower of the entire Saudi Royal Navy.
In a country with a 30 percent unemployment rate, there's no question that these civilian advisers and trainers are a focal point of the Islamists' outrage. When terrorists struck in Riyadh in 1995, the target was the US headquarters of a program to train the Saudi Arabian National Guard. Four of the five American victims were civilians on contract.
They've got oil; we've got arms. How convenient for everyone.
Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879-1964) and Lady Caroline Blackwood (1931-96) are frequently named the great muses of the twentieth century. They sought out and managed to marry several of the most brilliant, difficult artists of their times: Alma wed composer Gustav Mahler, architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and writer Franz Werfel; Caroline married painter Lucian Freud, composer Israel Citkowitz and poet Robert Lowell. Their love affairs were equally grand. Gustav Klimt's The Kiss is by some accounts based on a buss with Alma, Oskar Kokoschka's Die Windsbraut on a moment during his passionate three-year affair with her. Among Blackwood's suitors were critic Cyril Connolly, photographer Walker Evans and New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers.
When writing about a woman of great beauty, persuasive charm and dominating personality, it is far easier to explain what men want from her than it is to elucidate the motivations behind her decision to select "erotic legend" as her job description. Because we respond so viscerally to beauty, whether with wide-eyed, intimidated worship or hostility and sarcasm, great objects of desire can be vastly compelling, famous in their times, and yet remain obscure and unfathomable to later observers. Nancy Schoenberger, in her biography of Blackwood, and Max Phillips, in a novel based on Mahler-Werfel, take on a challenging task in resurrecting these women. Since the men of these stories are renowned as artists, we tend to see their wives as passive, as the chosen rather than the chooser. Schoenberger and Phillips face the onus of putting each woman at the center of her life.
Phillips's funny novel The Artist's Wife is narrated from beyond the grave by Alma, the great beauty of turn-of-the-century Vienna, a woman so impassioned in her conquests that her confidence comes off as a happy form of stupidity. Alma was the daughter of Emil Schindler, one of the most prominent painters of nineteenth-century Vienna, who died when she was 13. In photographs, she has long brown hair, beautiful blue eyes, an air of alertness and a mischievous, flirtatious expression. She studied music composition and wrote some unmemorable lieder before her marriage. She became the wife of Mahler at 22, married Gropius at 35 and Werfel at 50. She was a ruthless gladiator in the amorous ring, using her combative powers to get men's attention and to demolish rival women.
"Mahler observed me closely," she wrote in a memoir about their meeting, "not simply because of my face, which might have been called beautiful in those days, but also because of my piquant air.... His unfortunate neighbor was ignored that evening." To be this kind of woman was a full-time job.
Phillips is the lucky beneficiary of the 1999 English translation of Mahler-Werfel's astonishing diaries. In her voice, there is ambition: "With iron claws I claw my way up to my nest.... Any genius is the right straw to clutch at, the right prey to feather my nest." There is sex: "I shall never forget the touch of his hand on my most intimate parts.... One little nuance more, & I would have become a god--Everything about him is holy to me. I would like to kneel before him & kiss his loins--kiss everything, everything. Amen!" There is ambivalence about composing: "I don't take music-making seriously enough, I lack depth. I can feel it too, I know it, yet I'm so superficial. That, unfortunately, is just the way I am."
The diaries reveal a flighty sauciness that she obscured in her memoir but is revived in Phillips's novel. This quality seems to have been apparent, however, in her music. An early suitor, Alexander von Zemlinsky, criticized her sonata movement in a way that is also a commentary on her personality:
the whole thing lacks a characteristic theme...something more powerful! more energetic! Not always murmuring: not always chocolate, candied fruit, white dress at dinner, Queen of Society...a little failure, some ugliness, possibly also sadness in love, everyday worries and strict attention to kindness to others, plus a separate soft-heartedness: now that would be a life-enhancing subject!
Alma declined this challenge, and abandoned musical composition for a field in which she would truly excel. "I have always been ambitious," she told a biographer, "I began to realize the tremendous impression I could make on men, what an important role I could play in their lives, becoming literally the creator of creators." Mahler's Eighth Symphony contains a passage meant to be a portrait of her imperious nature, Klimt and Kokoschka created their masterpieces out of her eroticism, and Werfel became a novelist under her pressure.
Alma needed passion so intensely that whenever a husband grew too preoccupied (Mahler), went to war (Gropius) or began to bore her (Werfel), she had to find someone else. Unable to choose among suitors, she made notes in her diary, listing men like items on a shopping list for a trip to the mall:
Gustav Mahler--from the struggles of abstraction,
Oskar Kokoschka, the genius,
Walter Gropius, the improviser of cultures and wills--
...From Walter I want children--from Oskar, works--
Once she won a husband, how did she inspire his art? None of the magical-muse clichés apply. In a letter during their courtship, Mahler cut down her hopes of being a personality and an artist. Other men flatter her, he wrote, "because you're beautiful and attractive to men.... Just imagine if you were ugly, my Alma. You've become vain about that which these people think they see in you and wish to see in you.... My little Alma, we must agree in our love and in our hearts! But in our ideas? My Alma! What are your ideas?" After marriage, Mahler's rigid routine--he required a domus so perfect that he could reach into a particular corner of a particular bag without looking and find aspirin--caused her to collapse several times from nervous exhaustion. It is unclear how much she enjoyed her job, and Mahler apparently treated her rather indifferently. She reveled in the reflected glory her marriage brought her, but wrote glumly that "nothing has reached fruition for me. Neither my beauty, nor my spirit, nor my talent!"
Everything changed when she had an affair with Gropius, driving Mahler into a jealous frenzy. Her husband suddenly became much more aware of her existence and dedicated his Eighth Symphony to her.
After this experience, Alma seemed to realize that many men respond strongly to a woman's sexual and emotional independence, and she decided that these were key to retaining her powers of allure. She would never become a loving woman; nor did she possess much talent. But over time, her personality and confidence did grow in what Mahler called an "opening out." Her style, energy, drive and convictions about her destiny accumulated into a sheer force of personality. Each man proved a useful tool in obtaining the next one. As Mahler's wife she had an affair with Gropius, and as the widow Mahler she toyed with poor Kokoschka until he practically lost his mind. (He had a lifesize stuffed-cloth doll of her built as a replacement.) Barely separated from Kokoschka, Alma married Gropius and had his child. She first slept with Werfel while Gropius was away at war.
Ultimately, however, no man inspired her to total devotion, and she began to drink. For decades she polished off a bottle of benedictine a day. Yet she kept her eye out for new recruits. When she was in her late 70s she was asked if she had found geniuses in the New York of the 1950s. "Ah, no, it is sad," she said. "There are so few. Leonard Bernstein, Thornton Wilder. I cannot think of any others. It is not as it used to be."
Phillips's unpretentious novel adheres quite closely to the historical record and is an amusing facsimile of the woman and her peculiar gifts. Phillips's fictional Alma talks like a mean drag queen. She calls herself "a selfish little flirt" who "lived a long life, and was unkind to many men." She specializes in powerful men who find being affronted to be "a voluptuous feeling."
Phillips makes a great show of Alma neglecting her children. He allows her one lyrical moment, a cataloguing of all the names of a piano's notes: "Short, long, overlong, writing-paper, black ink, hawthorn blossom, straw-blade, short-lived love... pewter, lime-blossom, calves, departed glutton, lark, true pelican, brightly gleaming thread." But toward the end, his characterization turns cartoonish. He zooms in on her fat feet, and shows her flirting with her daughters' suitors like an aging Mae West.
Phillips has isolated the strengths of Alma at her height and eliminated her complexities. He looks up at his version of Alma with resentful admiration, as photographer Helmut Newton does at his domineering models, or as von Sternberg did at Marlene Dietrich. Alma looms like an unmitigable fact of life, sadistic in her indifference to each cowering admirer. Phillips's overreliance on Alma's diaries has done him a disservice as a novelist, because he cannot get away from her own idea of herself. Having Alma narrate the book may give it momentum, but it also limits its depth. From her lofty perch, Alma occasionally quotes a husband's remark, like a viceroy recalling a subaltern's complaint. But Phillips writes insipid, wooden dialogue for the husbands. ("The great femme fatale, the great amoureuse! But you don't love anyone, you've never loved anyone.") By cheapening the subtlety of each man's painful perception that he loved an arrogant and foolish woman, Phillips squandered the novel's potential to blend tragedy into its comedy.
Like Alma Mahler, Lady Caroline Blackwood, the Anglo-Irish writer who was married to Lucian Freud in the 1950s and to Robert Lowell in the 1970s, was a beauty. She was also petulant and arrogant. But whereas Alma the bourgeoise wielded her beauty like a sword, Caroline the aristocrat seemed burdened, even defeated by hers. As a young woman she was shy and showed a waifish lack of focus, but she grew into disdain and a slightly affected "wickedness." In her 40s, when she published books of fiction and nonfiction, there was pointed rage in her writing (Lowell wondered what she would demolish next) and cruelty and vitriol in her personal life.
How to show these ephemeral qualities? Visual art comes closest: Freud's paintings of the early 1950s, Girl in Bed and Girl Reading, showed a calm, introverted 21-year-old with bulbous eyes and large lips, swollen with quiet personality. Later in the marriage, Hotel Bedroom revealed her chilly, depressive passivity. A Walker Evans photo from the late 1950s shows her framing her astonishing face with her index finger and thumb, as if she were Vermeer's procuress proffering the goods to the viewer. Lowell's poetry focused on her sensuality and her hostility. In 1970--Blackwood was in her late 30s--he made his erotic catalogue of her body, published in The Dolphin: "Bubble and bullfrog boating on the surface,/belly lustily lagging three inches lowered--/the insatiable fiction of desire." He also mimicked her rage, which despoiled everything it described, comparing her to Muhammad Ali. He observed her Shakespearean mixture of heat and cold: "I see you as a baby killer whale,/free to walk the seven seas for game/warm-hearted with an undercoat of ice." Her uncanny beauty, so odd when she was young, was like a ruin in middle age, desolate and gorgeous.
Nancy Schoenberger has made a heroic effort not to join the ranks of the seduced in her new biography Dangerous Muse, with partial success. Blackwood's is an incredible story, and Schoenberger is to be lauded for taking on such an unconventional woman. Her biography is clever and polished, like her subject. Her style is graceful and plainspoken, although she is occasionally given to Vogue-isms like "wolfishly handsome" and to using one-sentence paragraphs. ("She was to become one of the most celebrated hostesses of her day.") Schoenberger describes perfectly the aristocratic and bohemian milieus in which Blackwood moved. Unfortunately, her knowledge of her subject is limited in large part because Blackwood's three children decided to oppose the biography.
Not only are these crucial witnesses not interviewed, there is no reference to Blackwood's papers. Further, Lucian Freud, the only living husband, was not interviewed, and neither were many of Blackwood's close friends. Schoenberger gets the externals of Caroline's life down: The reader sees Lucian's face, Francis Bacon's personality, the journals Encounter and Horizon, Cyril Connolly's infatuation, the gay scene at the Colony, English émigrés in Hollywood, the cuckolded second husband doing laundry and Lowell's hospitalizations. There is a lot of drinking and buying and selling of Georgian houses. The book has a picaresque feel, as if Blackwood were a beautiful princess kidnapped for dozens of adventures; but it does not read like it has a flesh-and-blood subject at its core.
Schoenberger interviewed a few too many romantic admirers with idealized notions of Blackwood. We get a great number of quotations like the one from a lover who speaks of being initiated "into her own darkness." The reader can feel like she too is waiting fearfully in the living room for the subject of the biography to come downstairs, while Blackwood spacily runs around her bedroom getting dressed. Dispatches from the world of reality arrive only occasionally, in the form of the impressions remembered by casual acquaintances. Christopher Isherwood, a man immune to Blackwood's charms, saw an arch snob: "Caroline was dull...because she is only capable of thinking negatively. Confronted by a phenomenon, she asks herself, what is wrong with it?"
A biography that sees a woman through the eyes of her husbands and admirers feels surreal, though it might accurately reflect Blackwood's own tenuous sense of herself. Her father was an aristocrat who died when she was 13, and her rather unmaternal mother, Maureen, was one of three beer-heiress society sisters, the golden Guinness girls. In the world of Blackwood's mother, British society of the 1920s, the requisite manner for a woman was fun and frivolous, and Maureen clung to her girlishness into her 60s, until she looked like an aging prostitute. She wore quantities of blue eye shadow and clear plastic heels with goldfish in them, bragging, "I was one of the great beauties, with my two sisters, and we were known as the beautiful Guinness girls.... Every man in London was in love with me, and every man wanted to marry me." Caroline was well acquainted with the woman who made a profession of her beauty, and in her novel Great Granny Webster she described one whose "attitude to life appeared so resolutely frivolous that perversely she could seem to have the seriousness of someone with a sense of driving purpose."
Caroline loathed her mother and aspired to be a different kind of woman. Like many aristocratic girls, she received a mediocre education, and throughout her life she sought out men who might educate her. When she came of age in the 1950s, she chose to ditch society and instead join London's bohemian set, where men were aesthetes with a tragic sensibility, and the feminine style was quiet resignation, clear-eyed realism and an ironic appreciation for the Gothic and grotesque. She was an introverted, bratty socialite who hung out with artists, a nervous chain-smoker, known for her silences, her beauty and her drinking. She perfected the indifferent mode of dress, and for decades she ran around in sneakers with laces undone, the casual style of her debutante years.
Unlike her female family members, she interested herself in matters intellectual and political and hoped for true love. In 1953 she married Freud, a breathtaking physical specimen. He was too much of a gambler and risk-taker, so she left him and England. After her departure, he went through a depression after which his paintings shifted to his mature style.
She lived briefly in Los Angeles and then New York, where, in 1959, she married Israel Citkowitz, a revered art-song composer who had ceased to write and instead lived meagerly in his Carnegie Hall studio, where he taught piano to society ladies of a certain age. Citkowitz never returned to composing, and Caroline soon lost interest. She bore three children during their marriage (although Schoenberger questions the paternity of two of them).
With maturity, she had begun to move through the world with a quiet, formidable style, and spoke with a confidence that transcended the quality of what she had to say. In Schoenberger's book, an observer of Blackwood applies James Merrill's phrase "the glamour of pure identity" to her. Photographs show a woman tense with anger, and her journalism indicates that she was catholic about where she directed it.
She moved back to London, where she met Lowell at a party in 1970. They moved in together, had a child, divorced their spouses, married each other and scandalized the publishing world. She had difficulty managing his intense manic-depression, which led him to harass Jacqueline Onassis, claim to be King of Scotland and eat the Cascade under the sink.
Lowell saw Caroline as an erotic animal, a dolphin spouting "the smarting waters of joy in your face." But Caroline had a different fantasy of love, and it had to do with looks, genius and (one guesses) a shared sense of superiority to others. It did not involve caring for a person during an unseemly manic attack, and she frequently panicked and rejected Lowell. She went into drunken rages that were too much for a man who needed her to be "calm and full." Lowell, like Citkowitz before him, became deeply terrified of her, even while remaining erotically mesmerized.
After a few years he reached his limit and moved out. ("Yet everything about the royal swan/is silly, overstated, a luxury toy/beyond the fortunate child's allowance," he wrote.) But he still longed for her and harangued anyone he could with photographs and descriptions of her beauty. Dangerous Muse contains a painful scene in which Blackwood tries to get Lowell back by flirting with an academic working on his poetry. She reclines on a bed, sits the academic at the end of it, and makes him admire her leather boots, all with Lowell in the room.
To perhaps little surprise, Blackwood's men are far more interesting than she is. All three of her husbands were intensely seductive: handsome, unstable and brilliant. The two she loved most were entirely self-involved. Schoenberger's Freud is very vibrant as a man and as an artist. Citkowitz is vivid as the paralyzed genius. Lowell is a presence so powerful that he practically steals the show. In what is ostensibly a Blackwood biography, Schoenberger focuses almost exclusively on how he experienced his wife, rather than how she experienced him. Blackwood's own struggle in being married to a brilliant manic-depressive who required Thorazine and lithium certainly deserved more attention.
While all these romances went on, her children were neglected, to tragic end. Caroline had a hedonist's impatience with suffering, and, much as she ran from Lowell's manic attacks, she ignored her daughter Natalya's depression and heroin addiction, which led to death at age 17.
Blackwood's tragedy is that she was a romantic who set her hopes on love but was no good at it, so she made do with drama. Paradoxically, she emerges as a fuller character only through her desperation as her great dream of love fails. Accordingly, the last chapters of Schoenberger's biography are the strongest. After Lowell left and Natalya died, Blackwood wrote eight minor books over a ten-year period. But then she stopped writing and descended into deep alcoholism and mental illness. When a writer canonized Blackwood in a 1993 Town & Country interview, she repaid his kindness by imposing herself as a nightmarish summer visitor, showing up with one dress and a bottle of vodka. She became so slovenly and menacing, reports Schoenberger, that she was put on a hotelier list of undesirable guests. One gets the impression that her life ended well before she died.
At the end she indulged in a philosophy of resigned fatalism. Her favorite Lowell lines, carved on her tombstone, were: "Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense/of suicidal absolution/that what we intended and failed/could never have happened..."
Gratifyingly, neither Phillips's novel nor Schoenberger's biography claims its subject was a "muse." Alma and Caroline may have each incarnated the sensibility of her place and time--Alma a piping, martial spirit; Caroline a ruinous, soured eroticism. But did they make art happen in a way another beautiful woman could not? Lowell used the dolphin metaphor for an earlier girlfriend to indicate that he obtained similar erotic joy from many women, while he referred in letters to "still having his muse," by which he meant his drive to write. As for Alma, Gropius was not with her during his most creative period, and many critics feel that Werfel's work was better before he met her.
Alma and Caroline were difficult women; when young, they inspired longstanding sexual and romantic feelings. Perhaps the muse label persists because we are ultimately so much more interested in the men who loved Alma and Caroline than in the women themselves. Perhaps we cannot stand to imagine artists as ambitious professionals whose erotic and other drives are no more noble than our own. In these cases, "muse" may be the polite term for a woman who uses her beauty and confidence as a passport into the world of genius. The price of citizenship is loneliness, nagging evidence of inferiority and perhaps painful awareness of the difference between vanity and greatness.
Paradoxically, Caroline's and Alma's ordinary failures to fashion great lives make them exceptional as literary subjects. Literary critic Rachel Brownstein, in her book Becoming a Heroine, noted that no novelist has been able to create a female protagonist who was not exemplary by some yardstick, be it feminine or feminist. And indeed, it is jarring to imagine how disconsolate Alma and Caroline became at the end of their lives; here you must use your imagination, since neither Schoenberger nor Phillips had the stomach to go all the way in there with their subjects. Each is an antiheroine who is funny and stylish but somehow lacking; clever, but not as smart as she thinks she is; a mediocrity convinced of her superiority to everyone else. She ultimately finds herself loveless and descends into alcoholism, instability and loneliness. One wishes to avert one's eyes from this story.
For the most part, we get representations of such women through genres that sunnily embrace beauty, such as fashion, pornography, celebrity worship. It takes an exceptional artist to make serious work out of raw, unredeemed physical beauty. Even the great Walker Evans and Robert Lowell focused on the nausea, lust and terror Caroline could inspire in them while largely declining to visit the more interior precincts of her psyche. One thinks of Brigitte Bardot alone among her animals, like a glamorous and unhinged Francis of Assisi.
The difficulty inherent in representing the inner life of the beautiful object of desire recalls a scene in Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night: A famous actress and mistress, just passing her prime, visits her aging mother in her country home to strategize a new affair. She asks her mother why she never published her memoirs. The grande dame replies that the mansion in which they stand was given to her in exchange for a promise never to publish her story. They laugh. The daughter blows her mother a kiss from the door.
The aging beauty's never-published memoirs may be Bergman's metaphor for the necessary absence of the seductive arts from the public record. The knowing exchange between mother and daughter perfectly captures the all-female world to which such professionals retreat, like a backstage dressing room. I remember a similar moment eating breakfast at a restaurant with a drop-dead beautiful young woman just reaching a point where she had to make some decisions. A chubby, middle-aged man passed by with a well-dressed blonde, and my friend looked up from her plate. "That's what my husband is going to look like," she said with a disgusted expression, "all fat like that." She sounded arrogant, predatory and melancholy, and went back to eating her breakfast.
At the age of 88, Studs Terkel has created an inspirational and philosophical book. Its universal theme is summed up in the subtitle: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith. Despite the apparently grim subject, Terkel succeeds again in capturing large truths from many individual voices and making the ordinary sound extraordinary.
The death in 1999 of Ida, his wife and companion for sixty years, caused the author to share his grief with friends and strangers in various walks of life. Terkel discovered that everybody had similar feelings about deceased loved ones. As his main title--Will the Circle Be Unbroken?--indicates, he began to wonder about the hereafter and what remains for the living.
Terkel himself has known how a serious illness can affect one's lifestyle. Several years ago, he had a quintuple bypass. How did he handle it? First, by continuing to obtain the best medical treatment and, second, by not giving in to fear and depression and continuing to work at his profession--broadcasting and writing books. He maintained his interest in all the arts--especially music. And to stay young, he kept old friendships and developed new ones with young people. He was a fixture at Riccardo's, a newspaperman's hangout, and visitors to Chicago, his hometown, always seemed to bump into him. He was easily spotted, wearing his checked red shirt and walking the streets as if he owned the town, greeting and being greeted by acquaintances and strangers, barflies and big shots.
His modest, self-prescribed Rx for life emerges in this and in his other oral histories: Keep going, expose hypocrisy, especially in government, and be an outspoken advocate of truth and progressive ideas.
In a lively introduction that reveals his literary knowledge, Terkel writes that some thirty years ago, Gore Vidal suggested death as a subject for a book. "I stared into my drink. No bells rang. My works had been concerned with life and its uncertainties rather than death and its indubitable certainty."
And Terkel goes on to explain what he has aimed to do in his series of oral histories:
In all my books, my informants--mostly the uncelebrated, heroes of the "ordinary"--had recounted, in their own words, the lives they had lived, the epochs they had survived. How did it feel to be a certain person in a certain circumstance at a certain time in our country's twentieth century? During the Great American Depression, what was it like to be that 12-year-old boy seeing his father trudge home at eleven in the morning with his toolchest over his shoulder only to become an idler for the next ten years? During World War II, what was it like to be the mama's boy sitting tight in that landing craft crossing the English Channel, heading for Normandy?... These were challenges I could handle, for better or worse.
His new book includes stories by a cross section of Americans: doctors, emergency-room nurses, a homicide detective, a former death-row inmate, a Hiroshima victim, a Vietnam veteran, a pastor, a priest, a rabbi, a lawyer, a church worker, a teacher, a journalist, a musician, a folk singer, fathers, mothers, sons--survivors and mourners. Only a few of the people have familiar names: Kurt Vonnegut, fellow author; Uta Hagen, actress; William Warfield, singer; Haskell Wexler, cinematographer; Vine Deloria, writer and teacher.
After providing facts about his family roots, Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five--a novel inspired by his experience as an American POW in Dresden during the Allied bombing--says, with a laugh, "I wish I'd died on D-day, it would have saved a lot of trouble."
In his friendly, reportorial style, Terkel fashions each of the individuals into sympathetic personalities. At the same time that they talk about death and the next world, they reveal much about life in the United States. A number of these interviews add up to mini-biographies of the people next door, whose doorbells the reader has never bothered to push. In this respect, Terkel is a wonderful neighbor and teacher.
The book is replete with Terkel anecdotes and shared memories, which he often recalls before falling asleep. My favorite goes: "Have you heard the one about the old sport who married a much younger woman? It worked for a couple of years. One day, a mutual friend encounters him. The old boy informs him that they've split up. 'She didn't know the songs," the old sport explains. Studs adds: "I have a good number of young friends, who are delightful company.... They do my heart good every time I see them, but they don't know the songs."
The heart of this book is found in an inspirational and consoling section for the bereaved called "God's Shepherds." Here, Terkel talks to religious leaders--or, rather, listens to them talk, since he's the best listener in the business of historical journalism (which I define as journalism that doesn't disappear overnight but survives forever in book form as history). The author's genial manner enables his subjects to open up; it's impossible to find a mean question in Will the Circle Be Unbroken? or in any of his other oral histories.
Rabbi Robert Marx, a Reform rabbi in Glencoe, Illinois, says: "I don't see a physical Hell any more than I see a physical Heaven. My Heaven is metaphysical. It is a place where spirits are. I know this is so illogical, but I accept the discontinuity. I believe in some sort of ideal Heavenly time frame in which the people I love exist eternally."
The Rev. Willie T. Barrow is chairwoman of the board of Operation PUSH, founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, in Chicago. She says: "I talk out loud. I just talk to the Lord. And then I share a lot with my friends. I have friends who [also] have lost children and who have lost husbands. So we share with each other."
Father Leonard Dubi is pastor of St. Anne's, a Catholic church in Hazel Crest, a Chicago suburb. It is a lower-middle-class congregation of white and black parishioners. Father Dubi says: "I've been involved in social justice most of [my] years and believe that that's the central way that we worship God in our world...in the action. That's the action for justice.... If we want to go to the otherworldly part, we gotta do [the] this-worldly part: helping people in very concrete ways."
Pastor Tom Kok leads the Peace Christian Reform Church in South Holland, a Chicago suburb. He says: "Death is the great unknown. It's something none of us has experienced but all of us will. I will fear death when it comes, but that fear is not going to be the overwhelming emotion that I experience. I believe that, at that time, my childhood faith, that faith that lives in me now as I go from here to there, that Jesus Christ is going to be with me, He's going to hold my hand, and He's going to walk with me through that valley of the shadow.... When I talk about God I talk about Him as a friend of mine, because He is a friend of mine."
In such outstanding books as Working and The Good War, Studs Terkel has been a trailblazer in a relatively new form of reportage--the tape-recorded interview that's played back, transcribed, then reconstructed and arranged for clarity and (I strongly believe) lasting literature. To be sure, Terkel does much more than serve as a stenographer or a correspondent listening to talking heads. If it were that easy, there would be many authors doing what he does so gracefully. But he is always his own man in his books--first, in finding an important theme; second, in finding the right people to interview; finally, in panning for gold, in an interviewee's scattered ideas and words.
When interviewed himself, Terkel cautiously attempts to explain his magic:
I'm a little self-conscious about being called an oral historian because I'm neither an historian nor an academician. What I do is more like oral journalism--I'm a recorder of oral messages. But whatever you call what I do, it's history with a point of view. I think of it as bottom-up history. I seek out ordinary people who have something to say about themselves. I've probably interviewed more secretaries than generals or admirals. The tape recorder can be used to capture the voice of a celebrity whose answers are prepared in advance, but I've yet to be astonished by one. But it can also be used to capture the thoughts of the noncelebrity. I'm constantly surprised at how people with buried grievances and unexpressed dreams want to let go, to let things out. I give them a chance to open up.
Now, in Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Studs Terkel has taken on his most challenging theme--and produced his most important book.
The comprehensive exhibition of Alberto Giacometti's work, on view at the Museum of Modern Art until January 8, opened on the centenary of the artist's birth, to a world very different from that of 1965, when the museum was last given over to it. It hardly needs saying that downtown Manhattan would not have figured greatly in the consciousness of those who saw the earlier show--though interestingly enough it was on Giacometti's mind when he traveled to New York that year. He had been commissioned to design a piece for Chase Manhattan Plaza, and part of his reason for coming to New York was to get a sense of that site. The downtown area was undergoing its great development in the middle 1960s--the World Trade Center was finally approved then--and one can imagine, as a sort of tableau vivant, the celebrated sculptor and his friends, standing like living statues in various different positions on the deserted plaza at night. On the night of this year's opening, Chase Manhattan Plaza was dense with smoke and deep in dust, and everyone who attended the show could think of little but the death and disaster New York had experienced a bare month earlier. But in some way the devastation made the city seem closer to the war-ruined world with which Giacometti's signature work is commonly associated than could possibly have been the case in 1965, when America seemed immune to attack and war was something that took place far away, and on someone else's territory.
The architect of Chase Manhattan's headquarters downtown, Gordon Bunshaft, had envisioned three colossal walking figures, high enough to stand up to the looming office buildings with which the space was surrounded. The prototype of figures walking might have been Giacometti's City Square of 1948, in which four of his archetypically attenuated male figures are shown walking in various directions in a space otherwise empty, save for a single standing woman. City Square is frequently used to illustrate a thesis about European cities, ruined and rubbled by World War II, or, alternatively, about the loneliness and alienation of modern urban existence. As such, it has become a cliché of book-jacket illustration for texts of popular sociology or existentialist philosophy, both of which helped create a cloud of received interpretation, disseminated in courses of Art History 101 wherever it is taught, which still stands almost indissolubly between Giacometti's work and its countless admirers. It is, to be sure, a very poetic vision to imagine four or five Giacometti figures at ground level, something like Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, but among which the supposedly alienated office workers in the world capital of alienation might hurry, in transit from impersonal offices, to sway in crowded isolation on the subway cars that speed them to their anonymous habitats. Rodin's figures are life-size, but if Giacometti's thin bronze figures were of that scale, they would vanish in the Lonely Crowd. The poetry would evaporate except at night, as when the artist and his friends moved about the plaza under artificial light. That is doubtless why Bunshaft proposed that the figures be immensely tall--but that would subvert the poetry as well, and add to the crowd's alleged demoralization. Giacometti himself, in all likelihood leery of the by-then-inescapable interpretations that falsified or at least distorted his work, at first proposed a kind of anthology of his pieces, including Monumental Head; and finally decided on a single standing woman on a scale uncharacteristically large for his work. Scale, however, was deeply limited by his remarkably intimate relationship with his sculptures. To have had a work fabricated by others would have been inconsistent with what at that point one might call his philosophy of art. A Giacometti sixty-five feet tall would not really be a Giacometti at all but an effigy of one--what he would have dismissed as an object. The commission in any case was never executed, and the artist died the following year.
It is not simply for reasons of scale, however, that Giacometti's sculpture was not truly suited to the public spaces of New York. The Burghers of Calais, which was commissioned by the city of Calais to commemorate a heroic episode in the Hundred Years' War, was intended to stand outside the cathedral, where the citizens could tell their children the story of how the town was saved by six of its most prominent citizens, who agreed to sacrifice themselves in order that the populace not starve. It was Rodin's own idea that it not be placed on a pedestal, but on the same level as that occupied by the people of Calais themselves. The figures are not dwarfed by the surrounding architecture. They look like real human beings, with expressions of the sort that ordinary human beings can read as they read one another's. Giacometti's figures have an altogether different character. They are meant primarily to be seen, the way we see figures in paintings. Of course, as sculptures, they are three-dimensional by default. But they are not intended to be viewed from different angles or walked around, any more than the figures in a painting are. Giacometti, whom I knew somewhat when I was a student in Paris, once told me that he thought of himself primarily as a painter, and indeed that even in his sculptures he tried to represent the world in a purely visual way, which he clarified as follows: He wanted to show the world as it would be experienced by someone who had no hands, and whose visual field was not inflected by other modalities of sense, such as touch.
This curious view is confirmed by Jean-Paul Sartre in a brilliant essay, published under a title he appropriated from Balzac--La recherche de l'absolu--in Les Temps modernes. Giacometti, he writes, is the first to sculpt a man as he is seen, that is to say, at a distance. He confers on his plaster personages an absolute distance, as a painter does with the inhabitants of a painting. One gets a feeling for Giacometti's unusual vision from the fact that he once made the attempt to sculpt a figure the way it would be seen at a distance, in the evening, on the Boulevard Saint-Michel. The MoMA catalogue tells us that Giacometti "later commented that in those days he had not yet understood that such things could only be painted." Sculpture of course necessarily exists in real space--but Giacometti's effort was to sculpt figures that incorporate a distance of their own. Sartre put it this way: "He creates a figure 'ten steps away,' 'twenty steps away,' and that remains the case no matter where you stand." In other words, if you were to stand ten steps away from one of the figures represented as ten steps away, then real distance and represented distance would be identical. But if you were fifty steps away, the object would still be represented as ten steps away--and the distance between you and the sculpture would differ from the distance in the sculpture, which would, in Sartre's terms, be absolute. That may indeed be possible only in painting, but it was what Giacometti was after as a sculptor.
Sartre says something even more striking about Giacometti's figures. "The moment I see them, they appear in my field of vision the way an idea appears in my mind." This is a way of explaining the somewhat ghostly feeling of his figures, as if they were persons whose bodies had been all but erased. Giacometti was legendary for destroying his work--his studio floor would be found littered with broken plaster in the morning, after undoing a night's work. I think this was the result of an impossible effort to eliminate whatever gave them the solidity that belonged to their material condition as sculpture. The almost unreal thinness of his figures gave rise to the belief, entirely false, that they were inspired by the starved inmates of concentration camps. That is not really the kind of artist he was. He was pursuing a way of creating the human body as if it were almost purely a soul. Sartre writes of how these fine and liberated natures rise into heaven--"they dance, they are dance, they are made of the same rarefied matter as those glorious bodies we have been promised." This is a far cry from the ragged stick figures of Buchenwald!
Sartre's essay served as the catalogue text for Giacometti's 1948 exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, which gave him his sudden great reputation in world art. Perhaps because of Sartre's own philosophical fame as an existentialist, Giacometti was himself perceived as an existentialist by association. Sartre used a vivid, at times a perversely incendiary, vocabulary, and though such terms as dread, anxiety, nihilation, shame and anguish are readily redeemed for quite ordinary terms in philosophical discourse, once Giacometti was identified as an existentialist, it was all but impossible not to see his men, his women and his groups of figures as inflected with the dark drama of death and danger, and as "plagued by such a strong sense of estrangement from both nature and society," to cite an influential textbook. That has made his work seem somehow anchored in a post-World War II mood, which it in fact has very little to do with at all. The art comes, really, from sources within Giacometti's own artistic personality. Giacometti was an exceedingly social person, and in no sense estranged from people. He spent his evenings in cafes, in animated discussion. In the mid-1960s, he was working on a portfolio of lithographs called Paris sans fin--Paris Without End. The famous City Square is meant to be seen as people encountering people. I have the most powerful memory of the first time I saw his wife, Annette, come into the studio. She was very pretty, wearing a sweater and skirt. Giacometti's face lit up with the most intense look of love I have ever observed. Here comes Annette! he cried, with joy.
But there is a respect in which deep resonances exist between Sartre's philosophy and Giacometti's great work of the late 1940s and early '50s, which perhaps explains why Sartre, who was after all not that deeply involved with the visual arts, should have devoted two essays to him. Bear with me as I attempt to say a few words about Sartre's philosophy. In La recherche de l'absolu, he speaks of Giacometti's work as midway between being and nothingness--between L'être et le néant--which was the title of Sartre's early masterpiece. Being and nothingness refer to Sartre's two main categories. Material objects have being. Consciousness is not a material object, and hence is, in a sense, a kind of nothingness, and we, as conscious beings, are a kind of nothingness as well. Sartre characterizes human beings as a futile passion--we have an unfulfillable yearning to possess the solidity of material things and the immateriality of pure consciousness. But it is in our difference from things that our inalienable metaphysical freedom is grounded. Sartre speaks of the effort to escape into the condition of mere things as bad faith. As I'll try to show, Giacometti's attitude toward his art has in fact something of the distinction between being and nothingness Sartre ascribed to his sculpture. But Sartre discovered it there--it was not something Giacometti derived from Sartre's version of existentialism.
The American artist Mercedes Matter records that in reaction to what critics and writers said about the metaphysical content of his work, Giacometti said, "It's a monstrous misunderstanding. To me it's nothing of the sort. It's a purely optical exercise. I try to represent a head as I see it." I can somewhat vouch for this. Giacometti was passionate about philosophical conversation, but mainly about the phenomenology of perception. We used to discuss Bertrand Russell's idea that physical objects are logical constructions out of sense data. He was very friendly with Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who must have explained to him his theories about sense experience--about how the field of perception is everywhere inflected by all of our sense modalities working together in synthesis, of how the world discloses itself to consciousness and how philosophers must learn from artists--from Balzac, Proust, Valéry or Cézanne--rather than from science. Still, even if not an existentialist, he was not an ordinary man, plodding along doing optical exercises like an experimental psychologist. He was an emotionally complex person, with a history of traumas, intensely preoccupied with dreams and with death. These feelings are conspicuously enough embodied in the work for viewers to sense that they are in the presence of meanings at once personal and of great human moment.
Consider The Palace at Four A.M., an object, as he was to call it, made in 1932, when he was part of the Surrealist movement in Paris. It is a kind of symbolic self-portrait--a realization of personal relationships and feelings. The impression it gives of a rickety wooden cage is reinforced by the presence of a skeletal bird--a sort of pterodactyl--fluttering in what may be a sort of tower. In a cage within a cage is a spinal column, carved in wood, which the artist identified as a woman with whom he had had an intense, somewhat claustrophobic relationship. There is a more obviously female figure, standing before what may be three doors, in a long skirt. This he interpreted as his mother. Finally there is a suspended object--a sphere in an elongated spoonlike receptacle, with which he identified himself. Mother, child, love and death--and the bird that perhaps expresses escape--enact one of the defining dramas of human existence.
It was a cleft ball, suspended in a cage, designed to swing over a crescent-shaped object, one edge of which fit the cleft, in a back and forth motion that insinuated sexual intercourse, that first brought Giacometti to the attention of the Surrealists when it was shown in a gallery window. They discovered in him an artist who, without benefit of indoctrination, had spontaneously hit upon exactly the kind of art in which they believed. It was an art that externalized the hidden truths of psychic reality in strange and wonderful objects--a reality that dreams disclosed. Giacometti wrote, "For many years I have executed only sculptures that have presented themselves to my mind entirely completed." Since already complete, as it were, it would have been quite irrelevant who executed them. So it would have been quite beside the point had Giacometti consigned The Palace at 4 A.M. to a woodworker for fabrication. A few years later, he had, according to Mercedes Matter, a revelation about the difference between an object and a work of art:
An object is perfect in itself; a work of art can never be perfect since it represents a particular vision, only one view of reality, while so many others are equally valid. But if a bottle breaks, it is nothing at all; whereas a work of art broken, damaged, so long as it still projects the vision it represents, continues to exist. An object does not represent a vision, it is merely a thing in itself.... My work was not a creation, it was no different from that of a carpenter making a table.... It was necessary to return to the sources and to start all over again.
The distinction between objects and works of art sounds very much like Sartre's distinction between beings-in-themselves--material objects--and conscious beings, or beings-for-themselves. What he meant by a work of art was something as close as philosophically possible to a human being.
Whatever their status, the works Giacometti made while he was a Surrealist project the obsessions and preoccupations that define the sources of his art, and MoMA has done a great service in giving so much of this exhibition over to his Surrealist output. His makeup was that of a true visionary--a Surrealist by nature more than affiliation, given to almost paranormal and near-hallucinatory experiences. What made him turn away from Surrealism is a matter for psychobiographical speculation, but he felt an evident need to turn to reality, and he began by making heads. For this he was literally expelled from the movement by the imperious André Breton, who said, dismissively, that "everyone knows what a head looks like." But Giacometti was interested in something far deeper than what heads look like. He was, rather, concerned with the way a head looks when its owner is looking at an object. "One day when I was drawing a young girl I suddenly noticed that the only thing that was alive was her gaze," he said in 1951. "The rest of her head meant no more to me than the skull of a dead man. One does want to sculpt a living person, but what makes him alive is without a doubt his gaze. Not the imitation of eyes, but really and truly a gaze."
One feels that this is what he sought for the rest of his life, in his paintings and drawings, and in his sculpture. Not how things appear but the way they show themselves as conscious of the world. His tireless effort was to bring clay to life. Nothing but life was art in his view. If all he had succeeded in making was objects, he would have failed. That would have been the deep reason the project for Chase Manhattan Plaza never came to anything. The reason is internally connected with what made him among the greatest of artists.