I look forward to each new PoemTalk for the sharp insights of its panelists..., but this is the first episode that covers both a poet and a poem with which I’m intimately familiar...
For me, the most salient aspect of the program was hearing Charles Bernstein discuss the great sway that Ginsberg’s Songs of Innocence and Experience album had over him as a Harvard undergrad — in part because I had a similar experience during my college years. Somehow, I’d managed to come across a 50%-off coupon to Borders and scurried out to the local strip mall as quickly as possible to purchase a (suddenly affordable) copy of Ginsberg’s 4-disc box set, Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs, 1949-1993, which I then listened to intensely over the next few years. I remember being stranded in Cleveland over the summer of 1999, during which time my discman and sleeve of cds were one of the few defenses I had against monotony and a quickly-dissolving romantic relationship — and one of my favorite things to listen to was disc 3 of the Ginsberg collection, which was largely comprised of selections from the Blake album.
Why the Blake tracks in particular? First, while I was well-acquainted with Ginsberg’s major poems (in fact, by this point, the spine was nearly broken on my big red Ginsberg collected from little slips of paper marking my favorite poems), they tend to run long, and it requires a considerable amount of attention to absorb, say, a thirty-minute recording of “Howl,” let alone the hour-plus rendition of “Kaddish,” especially when doing data entry or photocopying medical records (so much for quality control). The Blake songs, on the other hand, were like perfect little pop ditties — radio-ready, catchy and always surprising. This is largely due to the impressive roster of musicians, including well-known jazz figures Don Cherry (who plays a half-dozen instruments including harpsichord and wooden flute), Bob Dorough (best known as the musical director for Schoolhouse Rock) and Elvin Jones (John Coltrane’s scattershot drummer), who manage to create a fantastic amalgam of free-jazz, funereal drone, folk and Bach to accompany the songs. While some of Ginsberg’s later musical experiments fall flat (the calypsos, blues songs and pop-punk numbers occupying disc 4 of the box set), these songs are timeless and ever-engaging.
I have long been a sometimes unreasonable antagonist against Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. It's a film about the Holocaust with an ideologically ironic Master Narrative feel, and Oskar is presented as an I know/You don't, I am/You aren't, I have/you want relationship to Jews individually and collectively. The power dynamic gets sexualized (Oskar is physically attracted to a Jew's weakness in connection with his strength - although he knows the difference is merely a result of the era and will change later). The film uses Oskar relentlessly as a focalizer of our view, and so (despite what I take to be Spielberg's good intentions) this movie gives us the Holocaust of a German (indeed a member of the Nazi Party) when so many other perspectives are narratively possible. When we see the little girl in the red coat, we see her only and precisely from Oskar's point of view (which is to say Spielberg's) and there is no visual choice. We see what he wants us to see. In an otherwise black and white film (pseudo-documentary) her coat is painted red. Get it? Sure, we get it and how can we see anything else. It's a fascistic camera. No formal replication of the chaos, the utter chaos, the multiple views, the self-reflexivity, the varying degrees of complicity, the painful-to-watchness, the who-knows-what's-happening historiography of works like Maus or Shoah.
In '94 the Village Voice hosted a terrific symposium on the film. To me this is the finest way of understanding the issues the film raises about representations of the Holocaust.
Gertrude Koch, a panelist, says, "Who has the power? Who has the power to give life or death? That's what the film's about. I think the film is very friendly toward the concept of sovereignty, in the sense that Spielberg is always reproducing it."
Click here and read the whole symposium.