Regis Bonvicino & Charles Bernstein -- Exchange bo
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Palin/McCain and the Cult of Irresponsibility
an exchange between Régis Bonvicino & Charles Bernstein

Sâo Paulo, September 4, 2008

Dear Charles,

Obama is the "beyond" for U.S. He will give a "public dimension" to the U.S. government, away from Bush’s treating  the government as a private state. If Obama is elected, it will be welcomed in Latin America, Africa, and the Islamic World. W. Bush is maybe the worst president the U.S. has ever had. The state in the hands of the companies. The war. The  torture. He is just like our Brazilian dictators or Pinochet or Idi Amim Dada. Obama means JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King.

The U.S. election in November is the most important election of the last decades for the world. An Obama victory will be crucial for Latin America in recovering the dialogue with the U.S. and so bye, bye Chávez, Ortega, Álvaro Uribe, Cristina Fernández (a thief just like Menen was). I can't see future without true democracy in the U.S. and Obama.

Tell me please what do you think about Palin?



New York, September 6, 2008

Dear Régis,

During the Vietnam war (which for the Vietnamese was an act of American terrorism), John McCain was shot down as an enemy combatant. He was not given a fair trail and was subjected to torture. When Sarah Palin, in endorsing McCain, expressed her contempt for the rule of law, in a line that will live in  infamy  -- "Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America ... [Obama's] worried that someone won't read them their rights?"-- she forever tainted any honor that McCain's war experiences might reflect on her or her party.

Palin-McCain show the Republicans to be the  party of irresponsibility, refusing to acknowledge the consequences of their policies: unjustified wars; torture; global warming; abrogation of civil liberties; unemployment; erosion of even modest economic and medical safety nets; big business control of government regulation of their industries; environmental degradation; bloated prisons filled with those whose principal crime is being born poor, black, and male; erosion of the urban infrastructure; decline of public education (every child left behind); putsch-like transformation of the Justice department and courts into anti-democratic and extra-constitutional hit squads coked up by their contempt for the rule of law; increased number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions (both U.S. and worldwide); compromised worker safety and worker wages; unprecedented mortgage defaults; and catastrophic shift of wealth from working class and middle class to a tiny plutocracy.

The culture of irresponsibility and contempt for the civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. constitution extends out from Republican politicians to those who have voted for the Republican Party in the last two presidential elections. I blame the voters -- for falling prey to their own resentments and racisms, their homophobia, and intolerance. In 2000, to vote for Cheney-Bush was to cast your lot with dark side of human history.

You ask what I think about Palin: She is a sinister figure for the U.S. -- a right wing pit bull (her own description for herself) who is at core against America's most democratic and socially optimistic values. We hear too many commentaries in the mediocracy praise the "style" of her speech, but my teenage son Felix got it just right when he said, simply, that "she's mean."  The core of that meanness is related to the Republican party's deification of intolerance and worship of resentiment. You could hear it in Rudolph Guiliani's smarmy put down of "cosmopolitans," normally a code word for rootless Jews and girly men but here used to sneer at all who reject fear mongering -- as if Christian fundamentalist intolerance is the answer to Islamic fundamentalist intolerance.

Palin is the case book example of Republican party's bait & switch, the party's most typical modus operandi: a woman candidate who is anti-feminist and opposed the most basic issues of civil rights for women, on the order of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as an anti-civil-rights black man. Palin represents a continuation of the totalitarian aspects of Bush-Cheney by a party determined to sustain those calamitous policies for four more years and by any means necessary (including rigged elections and disinformation).

Palin is a jingoist nationalist, a proud "no nothing" on foreign affairs. She'd insist that the State force teenagers to study her religious beliefs on the creation of the world, and, at the same time, that the State prevent teenagers from learning about human procreation so that they will have the knowledge to act responsibly in the world. Palin would undercut science classes by imposing a state religion of her choice, in this case a rabid fundamentalism (not to be equated with Christianity), but she would deny freedom of choice to those who don't swing her way. In the guise of Big Brother abstinence-only "no sex" (mis)eduction for teens, Palin is responsible for the abortions and teen pregnancies that result. But she refuses to accept the blame. In a similar vein, McCain, who voted for an unjustifiable war, and even now has not renounced his vote, refuses to accept the fact that he is personally responsible for the horrific consequences of that war.



“I wanna die in the beat of ‘bamba’"

Sâo Paulo, September 7, 2008

Dear Charles,

Your letter is very strong and crucial. But tell me what you think of Barack Obama's plans. What does change mean? Who is he? Does he have content? How do you refute the Republican line that he is a celebrity and not a politician with ideas? It’s not that I think this, but I have listened in São Paulo to upper middle class people say that he is a fool! You know, Brazilians are more racist than Americans. But the black people from Rio's favelas love Obama, their new hero. They call him "O bamba" -- homophonic translations of Obama, that means in slang tough guy, bully, hood -- the best, the one. This word came from samba, from Nigeria Bantu I think. There is a classic song by Ataulfo Alves called "Na cadência do samba": "Quero morrer numa batucada de bamba / na cadência bonita do samba": “I wanna die in the beat of ‘bamba’ / in the beautiful rhythm of the samba."

Here is my essay on the election from yesterday's Último Segundo ay’s(the São Paulo daily newspaper):
[translation by Odile Cisneros; Portuguese original here]

A Defence of Poetry
Régis Bonvicino

Antonio Caño, a Washington correspondent for El País, recovering a concept coined by the Italian writer and film maker, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), recently proposed Barack Obama as poetry and John McCain as prose, realist prose. Some time later, John Ludenberg, from the American portal Huffington Post, unwittingly echoed Caño when analyzing Obama's acceptance address at the Democratic Convention called it "the poetry of a political speech." And he explains that although poetry itself wasn't actually present in all the passages, it nonetheless emerges in the rhythm. Ludenberg notes he does not speak in metrical verse, bur rather in biblical cadences, like Martin Luther King (1929-1968) or Walt Whitman's (1829-1892) long verses. Whitman was the inventor of free verse and the first American poet who openly addressed his homosexuality in Leaves of Grass  (1855), whose first edition, financed by the author, had 95 pages and 12 poems. Ludenberg argues that the repetition of words in the opening of phrases likens Obama's speech to poetry.


            Obama's speeches are not poetry nor are McCain's "prose", and Obama does not represent the poetry nor McCain a certain type of prose—the prose of, for instance, Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954). The comparisons reveal the ignorance of the contemporary world and the media when it comes to poetry. To be a poet, in such terms, is to be a delirious dreamer, someone who proposes quixotic ideas, one who is outside of reality. Although on a different scale, the same prejudice exists in relation to prose. Prose means wordiness, someone who talks too much and says nothing. Still, prose seems more adequate as a way to characterize both candidates, or any politician, for that matter.
            Pasolini, the brilliant author of Mamma Roma (1963), "invented," in an essay from 1975, the notion that in soccer there's a prosaic and a poetic language. He argued that dribbling and individual play were essentially poetry, while defensive and triangular play were prosaic. In his view, prose-soccer was based on syntax, on a collective and organized game, synthesized into a system, while poetry-soccer, which he associated with the Brazilian team in 1970, with Pelé and Tostão, would be the unexpected, the strange and the unforeseen. The definition was reasonably correct (when it came to the unexpected), both for poetry as for soccer. It is partially correct because there's no inspiration without work and, mainly, without order. And, in many occasions, just as in 1970, the victory was poetry's. Language has certain functions, and the poetic function is one of them, just as the referential function used by the media, whose aim is to disseminate information privileging the facts about the object in the news and not—as is the case of poetry or artistic prose—language itself, its sounds, its rhythms, its unusual meanings. Prose-soccer would be effective, and poetry-soccer would be individualistic and "inspired," according to Pasolini. Hence, for Caño, Obama would be "inspired," when he proposed changes, and McCain would represent an effective system lacking "magic," in his reiteration of the Republican program. The two represent, I believe, only and exclusively prose, because they aim at arriving in "War-shington" in January 2009. I quote below a passage from the poem "A Bomba" (1961, "The Bomb") by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, so the reader may have a clear idea what great poetry is like:

            The bomb
            twists all languages into its cloudy syntax
            The bomb
            belches imposture and political prosopopoiea
            The bomb
            breeds leopards in the backyard, sometimes in the living room
            The bomb
            is rotten
                                  [see translation of the whole poem at the PEPC library]
             Prosopoeia means a bombastic or vehement speech and is a figure of speech whereby the speaker attributes human feelings to inanimate beings, to animals or to dead people, for instance. In the poem, Drummond uses the word in the sense of bombast but also of insult. For instance, when George Walker Bush, McCain, and Sarah Palin defend war. He also used it in the sense of prosopopoeia as well: pro-war politicians "speak" of  the dead. Palin accused Obama of not using the word "victory" when he talked about the Iraq War. This is the war-mongering, irrational populism of Republicans: in 2003, Obama voted in Congress against the invasion of Iraq. In this case, he behaved like essayistic, analytic, and reflexive prose. Obama's proposals are rational prose: to cut taxes by 95% for workers, to cut taxes for small businesses and to increase them for big business, to invest in education, in renewable energy, in research against global warming, to reestablish civil rights erased by Bush, to restore dialogue with other countries, etc.

                        Erosion of Rights

            Sometimes Obama is also common prose: when he acknowledges unilateral interventions in countries that shelter terrorists, as in his book The Audacity of Hope (2006). McCain is now an imitator of Obama when he preaches "changes" to will the election and leaving Hitlerian prose to Sarah Palin, who is against abortion even in the case of rape (Brazilian law, for instance, allows this), against any initiative against global warming, which was not, in her opinion, created by man but by the will of God, against the killing of polar bears, in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. McCain is fraudulent prose when he promises to cut taxes for the rich even further and to "prepare American workers to compete in a world economy." McCain is Hollywood-style prose when he repeats, about the terrorists, "Wanted—dead or alive." He himself suffers from skin cancer and could be transformed into a "prosopopoeia" in a speech by President Palin. It is probable that the McCain/Palin ticket will win the U.S. election. From 1945 on, the Republican Party has been in power for 36 years compared to the 23 years in power of the Democrats, and among Democrats, only Jimmy Carter (1974-1977) was a true social democrat. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) was a right-leaning Democrat. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) is, even today, more the myth than a progressive. Harry Truman (1945-1963) was a more right-leaning Democrat than Johnson.
            No politician is comparable to poetry, although Obama's dreams, as Caño rightly defined them, are more than necessary. In the end, politicians too shall pass, even though their damage lasts for decades, and poetry remains. Who can remember who the president was during Fernando Pessoa's time? One must criticize, vigorously, the fall of the level of civilization, which originated in Europe, and the erosion of civil and workers' rights that happened in the countries of the "Free World" starting in the 1990s. One must denounce mafia states such as Russia and its appendix South Ossetia, and others, which emerged form the debacle in 1991 of the deplorable Soviet Union. One must denounce slave labor in Hu Jintao's China. The United States would have a decisive civilizing role in this beginning of the century, but there politicians overwhelmingly, deserve—and I hope Barack Obama will be the exception Carter was—the contempt Plato felt for them.


McCain-Bush: Change for the Worse

New York, September 9, 2008

Dear Régis,

You’re right that both McCain and Obama are “prose,” which is as it should be. But it’s interesting, in this light, to consider what it means that Obama is attacked as if he were poetry, where poetry means fluffy rhetoric that sounds good but … don’t amount to nothing! Just more elitist crap! –You don’t need Wallace Stevens to tell you that the imagination is the most democratic thing of all. George Lakoff has been saying that the Republicans understand the election is won by metaphors not facts, that voters respond to the world view they idealize (discipline and punish for the Republicans, contextualize and ameliorate for  the Democrats). Unlike the Republicans, though, the Democrats are uncomfortable with running just on metaphor, which is all to the good, but not if it becomes a trap of the “When will you stop beating your wife?” sort, which can’t be answered by facts without making you look like you did something wrong. “I love my wife, I never laid my hands on her, I abhor violence against women, I contributed to the local battered wives shelter, check the police record and  you will not see complaints, ask my neighbors.” On all the policy questions – from the economy, to taxes, to the war, to the environment, to healthcare -- the Democratic party platform is better than the Republican party platform. Obama is a moderate, centrist figure and he will continually disappointed anyone committed to a more left agenda. I don’t believe he is tacking to the  center because of the election, I think he was nominated because he’s a centrist. His whole “post-partisan” rhetoric strikes me as a neoliberal evasion of ideology and  history. But on the policy questions, he is on the right side of history. And on the crucial, and probably determining, questions of metaphor and values, there’s no contest.

The irony is that Obama is all content while the other side is all bait and switch. (You vote to protect yourself against WMDs and you get a tax holiday for big business.) The idea that Obama has no “substance” or “content” (too many ideas not enough action, fancy words no deeds, girly man that he is) is the Republican imaginary of discipline and punish. The problem with the Republicans is not that they don’t have content, of course, but that their content is hidden in endless waves of Big Lies and small lies, disinformation and bile. The Republicans are the party of audacious change and after eight years of Cheney-Bush the question is how much more change of that kind will the American people be willing to take before turning against the devil inside themselves that keeps taking the bait and then feeling betrayed. No, they won’t respect you in the morning. And the love child of this sado-masochistic Republican seduction makes the pods in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers seem kindler and gentler.

But the sins against the world are just one  part of the  problem. The sins against the earth cannot be forgiven.


link    |  09-10-08

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