On Being Green
Re the "’Climategate’ Claptrap" articles by Mark Hertsgaard and Johann Hari [May 3]: I wish the climate-change deniers would deny away cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Let’s face it, the health food and medical industries are making money hand over fist spreading the "healthy eating and exercise" mythology.
As a liberal, I guess I’m supposed to be in favor of offsets/cap-and-trade/whatever you want to call it [Heather Rogers, "Offset Buyers Beware," May 3]. I’m not. If there are standards, let everyone live up to them. There is no good reason to let businesses and wealthy individuals off just because they can pay. Meet the standards or pay like any other jamoke on the block. The hell with offsets.
On Being Black
Regarding Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s "Black by Choice" [May 3]: I understand the history behind President Obama’s decision to label himself only as black on his Census form. But I thought the point of Obama’s candidacy and presidency was that this is a new day—Change We Can Believe In—not the same old same old.
WILLIAM J. ROUSTER
Our president chose to identify himself as black. We can try to guess what is in his head, but the fact is, he chose not to check "mixed" or "white." As a black person, I feel I am part of a diaspora and a history, not simply a color. Our president embraces that history wholeheartedly. Kudos to him. Not all are wise enough to do that, including many of us who grew up with two black parents.
Many people do not understand that when you are consistently boxed into a category at a young age, you tend to own it rather than fight it. When you tell people you are mixed—in my case, Russian, Italian and African-American—and people consistently challenge that, it is easier to just say, You know what, I am black. Perhaps President Obama has been making the choice for most of his life. As Melissa Harris-Lacewell points out, Obama challenges the very notion of whiteness. Intelligence, charisma, Ivy League education and intact "family values" have usually been attributed to whiteness. To deny that is to deny this country’s history. Obama shows white America that a black man can excel as much as, if not more than, a white man. And that is the pure fear behind much of the Tea Party activism.
As a biracial American, I was always considered black—not half-white, all black. I have no problem with Obama not marking both "white" and "black" on his Census form. It was a shout-out to his African heritage and to black Americans. It was a statement to America and the world that he is proud to be black. Some say Obama threw his mother under the bus by checking only "black" on his form. This ridiculous claim does not take into account that for 200 years one drop of black meant all black—when applying for jobs, loans and mortgages, driving, being arrested, we were black.
I’m so excited to be led by President Obama. He is a thoughtful, brilliant, calm and strong black leader—and I couldn’t be more proud.
On Being Read
Thank you for Jordan Davis’s perceptive review of the latest Darwish translations, "A Caller of the Dove" [April 26], and for quoting portions of Darwish’s masterpiece of Arabic and world literature, Memory for Forgetfulness (translated by Ibrahim Muhawi). I recently learned of a forthcoming new translation by Dr. Muhawi that should interest readers wishing to discover more of Darwish’s prose writing. According to the book announcement for Journal of an Ordinary Grief (Archipelago):
"These essays take a close look at the existentially complex situation the Palestinians in Israel face and the ambiguity of Darwish’s own identity as an Israeli Palestinian…. The book first appeared [in Arabic] in 1973, two years after the poet went into exile."
A small portion from one of these essays is included in the introduction to Memory for Forgetfulness, and shows Darwish’s affinity for Franz Kafka.
Like many readers of poetry, I imagine, I was delighted to see Jordan Davis’s long essay considering the numerous new (and less new) translations of the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. But as I read, I became more and more perplexed, and disturbed on several counts.
I think it is important for a reviewer of poetry in translation to state whether s/he can read the work in its original language; otherwise, the reader does not know if preferences for one translated passage over another, or dissatisfactions with a line or a stanza, are questions of accuracy or of the reviewer’s taste in the receptor language.
It is as natural that Darwish should refer to the Mu’allaqat in his poetry as that Derek Walcott should refer to The Odyssey in his: they are among the foundational texts of literature in Arabic. Nor is it surprising that the Mu’allaqat should be as bloody as Beowulf or The Iliad (though the tales of the amorous exploits of Imru al-Qays are, among other things, a sendup of the kind of "courtly love" that was traditionally the subject of the opening qasida of an ode—meant to be outrageous as well as seductive: Rabelais, not Roman de la Rose).
But to begin an essay on Darwish with a lengthy disquisition on the Mu’allaqat is as peculiar as writing about Seamus Heaney in the context of Sean-Ghaeilge epics. The interlocutors in Darwish’s poetry include Lorca, Paul Celan, Yannis Ritsos, Edward Said, Badr Shakir as-Sayyab (himself a founder of Modernism in Arabic poetry—a Modernism that integrated the same European sources as Eliot and Pound), even Walcott and Mark Strand. Darwish was a world poet (and a polyglot), as well as the poet, the psychic historian, of the Palestinian people; he was also profoundly involved with contemporary Arabic poetry as a mentor and editor.
"Even readers disinclined to set aside the fact that Darwish served on the Executive Committee of the PLO…"? Or that Yehuda Amichai was part of an invasion force in 1948? Or that Paul Claudel, for that matter, was in the French diplomatic corps? I am sure Nation readers recall the epithet "premature anti-Fascist" as it was used in the 1950s. Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Rabin, no more a saint than he was. So Darwish was for a while a "premature" Fatah official, with a complex secular and democratic political engagement that the reviewer seems not to have investigated, if he was going to refer to Darwish’s political action outside his writing at all.