Category: LARB

Bach at the Burger King

Theodore Gioia for the LA Review of Books
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Theodore Gioia considers the position of classical music in contemporary society for the LA Review of Books:

At the corner of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.

Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. Outside the BART escalator, an encampment of grocery carts, sleeping bags, and plastic tarmacs had evolved into a sidewalk shantytown attracting throngs of squatters and street denizens. “There used to be a mob that would hang out there,” remarked local resident David Allen, “and now there may be just one or two people.” When I passed the corner, the only sign of life I found was a trembling woman crouched on the pavement, head in hand, as classical harpsichord besieged her ears.

This tactic was suggested by a cryptic organization called the Central Market Community Benefit District, a nonprofit collective of neighborhood property owners whose mission statement strikes an Orwellian note: “The CMCBD makes the Central Market area a safer, more attractive, more desirable place to work, live, shop, locate a business and own property by delivering services beyond those the City of San Francisco can provide.” These supra-civic services seem to consist primarily of finding tasteful ways to displace the destitute.

The inspiration for the Burger King plan, a CMCBD official commented, came from the London Underground. In 2005, the metro system started playing orchestral soundtracks in 65 tube stations as part of a scheme to deter “anti-social” behavior, after the surprising success of a 2003 pilot program. The pilot’s remarkable results — seeing train robberies fall 33 percent, verbal assaults on staff drop 25 percent, and vandalism decrease 37 percent after just 18 months of classical music — caught the eye of the global law-enforcement community. Thus, an international phenomenon was born. Since then, weaponized classical music has spread throughout England and the world: police units across the planet now deploy the string quartet as the latest addition to their crime-fighting arsenal, recruiting Officer Johann Sebastian as the newest member of the force.

Experts trace the practice’s origins back to a drowsy 7-Eleven in British Columbia in 1985, where some clever Canadian manager played Mozart outside the store to repel parking-lot loiterers. Mozart-in-the-Parking-Lot was so successful at discouraging teenage reprobates that 7-Eleven implemented the program at over 150 stores, becoming the first company to battle vandalism with the viola. Then the idea spread to West Palm Beach, Florida, where in 2001 the police confronted a drug-ridden street corner by installing a loudspeaker booming Beethoven and Mozart. “The officers were amazed when at 10 o’clock at night there was not a soul on the corner,” remarked Detective Dena Kimberlin. Soon other police departments “started calling.” From that point, the tactic — now codified as an official maneuver in the Polite Policeman’s Handbook — exploded in popularity for both private companies and public institutions. Over the last decade, symphonic security has swept across the globe as a standard procedure from Australia to Alaska.

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Pasadena Ode (for my mother)

Sharon Olds in the LA Review of Books
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A new poem by Sharon Olds, ‘Pasadena Ode’, featured in the LARB’s Comedy issue.

(for my mother)

When I drove into your home town,
for the first time, a big pine-cone
hurtled down in front of the hood!
I parked and retrieved it, the stomen tip
green and wet.  An hour later,
I realized that you had never once
thrown anything at me.  And, as days
passed, the Ponderosa oval
opened, its bracts stretched apart,
and their pairs of wings on top dried
and lifted.  Thank you for every spoon,
and fork, and knife, and saucer, and cup.
Thank you for keeping the air between us
kempt, empty, aeolian.
Never a stick, or a perfume bottle,
or pinking shears — as if you were saving 
an inheritance of untainted objects
to pass down to me.  You know why I’m still
writing you, don’t you.  I miss you unspeakably,
as I have since nine months after I was born,
when you first threw something at me while keeping
hold of it — then threw it again,
and again and again — when you can throw the same thing
over and over, it’s as if you have
a magic power, an always replenishable
instrument.  Of course if you had let
go of the big beaver-tail hairbrush —
if it had been aimed at my head — I would have
had it!  I’m letting you have it, here,
casting a line out, to catch you, then
coming back, then casting one out,
to bind you to me, flinging this flurry of
make-a-wish milkweed.

Nothing Will Go Back: An Interview with Dr. Andrea Pető of Central European University

Stephanie Newman interviews for LARB
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Stephanie Newman interviews feminist scholar Andrea Pető about the current state of Hungary, for LARB:

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STEPHANIE NEWMAN: What impact do you think the Trump administration has had in emboldening Orbán and influencing Hungary’s direction overall?

ANDREA PETŐ: As I see US politics from here, there’s much more resistance through the judiciary and the media than there is in Hungary. Our illiberal state is a new form of governance, not a backlash. Nothing will go back to the way it used to be. Because of independent media in the United States, there hasn’t been the same kind of takeover as in Hungary.

On the other hand, there is this transnational network of politicians and public intellectuals who are meeting and strategizing. The World Congress of Families is an American fundamentalist Christian organization, and, along with the International Organization for the Family, they’ll be meeting here in Budapest from May 25–28, 2017. They support banning abortion and promoting the family as a heteronormative unit. Last year, the conference was in the Caucuses, in Georgia, and there were lots of Russian delegates there. In 2015, the conference was in Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course, there is this very strange alliance between the fundamentalist Christians and Russian intellectuals, and now the honorary leader of this latest four-day conference is our Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The organizer is the state secretary for Hungary’s Ministry of Human Capital, which covers social affairs, education, and culture. So, the state secretary responsible for family affairs will be the keynote speaker at this extremely controversial “World Congress of Families.”

In one of your pieces for openDemocracy, you mention the government’s promotion of a more traditional family structure. Is this related? 

Yes, but this “traditional family structure” is not as traditional as you might imagine. The illiberal state has a very different family policy from Christian conservatives. Our government has the rhetoric of promoting all families, but not the practice. I wrote this article about the Polypore state with Weronika Grzebalska [a PhD researcher at Graduate School for Social Research, Polish Academy of Sciences] comparing women’s politics in Poland and Hungary. The Polypore state is working with securitization, familialism, and constructing alternative NGOs that mirror existing institutions. The conservative values are only fig leaves. Behind them aren’t values, but power: economic, social, and symbolic power.

That said, if you look at the policies in Hungary, you can’t really see any government attempt to change existing reproductive rights. Abortion today is more or less freely available. Free abortion was introduced by a decree in Hungary in January 1945, after the massive rapes committed by Red Army soldiers, and it was constantly regulated by decrees until 1990, when the constitution needed a higher-level legal framework. In our System of National Cooperation (name of the document replacing the constitution), life must be protected from conception. But the government wouldn’t dare renegotiate how these values will be regulated — with good reason. The number of abortions is decreasing, even though health insurance does not cover pills. Polls are actually showing that more than 70 percent of Hungarian women want to protect the right to an abortion. At the moment, I think what we have is an acceptable compromise, as far as the practice is concerned, for all parties involved.

Another parallel between the United States and Hungary is the rising rate of xenophobia. What was the feminist response to the immigration crisis in 2015, as Syrian refugees crossed into Hungary through Serbia?

This was a transformative moment for everybody, especially for us here in this academic ivory tower. It was important for us that CEU opened its doors to the refugees. The faculty, staff, and students were collecting donations in shifts. In a sense, the non-response and ignorance of the state created space for various civil organizations to flourish. It was also interesting to interact with the Hungarian women who converted to Islam because they had married somebody practicing the religion. They have a very powerful association here in Hungary, and they were the driving force behind this kind of civic initiative, because they spoke the language and, being veiled, had more trust from the women refugees. These Hungarian women had two or three cell phones, and they’d be driving from one place to another to coordinate their humanitarian action. This also proved that the stereotype of the passive Islamic religious woman, who stays home taking care of the kids, is unsustainable. They were out there with their children, organizing and active. The migration crisis changed their position.

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Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: The Language Warrior

Rosemary McClure interviews for LARB
Ngugi-wa-Thiong’o

Rosemary McClure interviews Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o for LARB:

ROSEMARY MCCLURE: In what language do you usually write? 

NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O: There was a time I wrote in English, but now I often write in my language, Gĩkũyũ [spoken by almost seven million Kenyans], and translate it back into English. It’s more of a challenge for me.

What sets “The Upright Revolution” apart from your other work?

I describe myself as a language warrior for marginalized languages. Much of the intellectual production in Africa is done in European languages: English, French, Portuguese. The people in Africa speak African languages. They have a right to cultural products written in their language. Translation is an important tool that makes it possible for different cultures to borrow from each other.

What are some examples of cultural borrowing?

The Bible and the Qur’an. People can read them because they’re available in their own languages. Here at UCI, we’re able to discuss Hegel, because his works have been translated. We don’t have to understand the German language to learn from his works. The same is true with Greek mythology; we can learn from it without knowing how to speak Greek. Translation becomes a process whereby languages can talk to each other. 

Is that why you’re enthusiastic about the translations of your short story?

I became excited about this story because Jalada picked the story up, produced a translation journal that included it, and worked with many translators to make it available in many languages. It makes me feel very happy to see young people picking up these languages and showing that it can be done. I’m very proud of the project and that my story has been part of this phenomenon.

In 1977, you were imprisoned for a year for critical works about neocolonial Kenya. How did you cope?

For a writer, it was difficult. You were not allowed to write. You were not allowed to do anything, even ask, “Is it raining outside today? Is it sunny outside?” So the only way I could actually, literally, deal with my prison conditions — maximum-security prison for doing nothing — was by writing secretly. I wrote a novel, Devil on a Cross, in Gĩkũyũ on toilet paper with a pen they had given me to write a confession.

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