Commentaries

that Aramaic chant

Comedian Lewis Black refers to the Kol Nidre in some of his shows, and in his first book, Nothing's Sacred, where he calls it the spookiest piece of music ever written, claiming that it may have been the piece to inspire all of Alfred Hitchcock's musical scores.

"Schindler's List" redux

it doesn't represent

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, black & white

Three students' response to Schindler's List:

Lily: Rather than acknowledge this and do something like direct his artistic vision to conveying th[e problem of] inefficacy [of representations of the Holocaust generally] by, for example, dizzying us with an overwhelming amount of images and scenes or using unconventional camera angles or resisting one story line, Spielberg ploughs through, wants to pass off his movie as an 'accurate' portrayal, and that's that.

Rachel: Schindler’s List is not only easy because it tells us what to feel. It is easy because it tells us to feel obvious and uncomplicated emotions. The terrible contradictions and the ambiguity of moral questions are largely forgotten in his film. Schindler’s List is a blockbuster, with some interesting characters; but I don't think it represents the experience of the Holocaust victim.

Sami: As I watch Schindler's List I can't help thinking that a movie representation of the Holocaust is the least effective way of getting us to understand the X. Whereas Levi and Wiesel struggle with bearing witness, Spielberg is thinking about how to make an intriguing, compelling story. How can you take the occurrences of the Holocaust and try to produce the story for an audience? How can you hire actors who cannot possibly understand the X to pretend they were part of the Holocaust? The more I think about these questions, the more I find the film offensive and presumptuous. That's just my initial reaction....

no heart so hardened that Henri cannot breach it

Primo Levi's great book, Survival in Auschwitz, at one point depicts a range of four kinds of typical survivors - those who are in some way adaptable to the strange Babel of languages in the camp, to its bizarre and complex social and economic hierarchies, and its subtle constant rewriting of behaviorial rules, the breaking of which could lead to instant death. One guy whom Primo knew at the camp, a cunning, beautiful young man whose great talent was that he could create pity in others (even hardened criminal Kapos and even members of the SS), was someone Levi called "Henri." Later, after this mean survived the war, went on with his life, heard about Levi's mostly negative account of him, he showed himself and wrote his own account. His name, it turns out, is Paul Steinberg. His book appeared in 2000 (years after Primo killed himself). Speak You Also. In October 2000 Martin Arnold published a piece in the New York Times about it, and here is a link to it.

Bengali poetry/electro-magnetics guy

The Cincinnati-based engineer Aryanil Mukherjee has built a web site featuring translations of Bengali poetry. Aryanil listened to the recent PoemTalk episode on Zukofsky and responded as someone knowledgeable about electro-magnetics. Word from PennSound's Managing Editor Mike Hennessey is that we will soon have a Aryanil Mukherjee author page (readings of translations). So stay tuned.

poetic electricity

Writing in response to PoemTalk #22 on Zukofsky,the Cincinnati-based engineer Aryanil Mukherjee, whose site featuring translations of Bengali poetry we admire, sent us some helpful observations:

I thought I would share this with you if it makes any sense or sheds any new light with which certain aspects of the poem might be reviewed. The opening line [Its hard to see but think of a sea condensed..] made me think of exactly how an electrical condenser [ also known as a capacitor] works. Although, in the next line Zukofsky moves on to the transmission of light and waves, refers to electric stress, finally conditioning it with "unless the space the stresses cross is air". I thought that the construction and functioning of an electric condenser remains central to these lines.

Condensers build voltage and store energy [electric stress] with no real "material" actually conducting electricity. Their construction shows an air gap between the two walls across which the voltage or voltaic stress is preserved. In physics, when we compare electric circuits to elastodynamic spring-mass systems the condenser is equal to a damper which plays a similar role of dampening/amplifying a force [by reducing acceleration].

George Gamow, the Russian born American nuclear physicist, wrote a great deal of popular science. In one of these books [can't remember the title] he describes wave propagation comparing the sea to an electric circuit [and a mechanical spring-mass system] with several layers of capacitors or condencers in parallel. I thought Zukofsky's description of the sea came very close to Gamow's model especially where he talks about "many condensers large and small"...etc.

That a great deal of electric stress [and light] can be stored in between the surface waves and the seabed in layers and all of that can be actually "transmitted" without a real "felt" medium in between is perhaps not just scientific truth but also poetic electricity.