Monday, March 29, 2010

THOUSAND CRANES on a day with too many suicides

I think it is time to return to reading up on some Japanese Culture and look at ideas of beauty and suicide that are being ignored and stained by thethe horrible swell in the number of suicide bombers the world has been witnessing in the last years.

Here is a quick look back at Kawabata's THOUSAND CRANES for nostalgia's sake.

Thousand Cranes

1. What significance do you find in the choice of the title, Thousand Cranes?

A “Senbazuru” or 1000 cranes—often made of paper, like in Japanese origami—are a symbol of good luck in several Asian countries. A “Senbazuru” may be used at the time of a birth of a child or at a wedding, as a gesture of good luck or good providence for the child, couple or new family. According to Wikopedia, “It is also used as a matchmaking charm for a Japanese girl when she turns 13 years old. She would make 1000 paper cranes and give it to an admired boy.”
Unmentioned in the novel by Yasunari Kawabata is the meaning or symbolism of the 1000 cranes on the scarf of the Inamura girl. Early on in the novel, Thousand Cranes, unbeknownst to the main character, the Inamura girl is heading to a miai or matchmaking opportunity. Along the way to the teahouse, as the main protagonist, Kikuji, meets her for the first time, he notices the scarf. Long after Kikuji has forgotten the face of this particular Inamura girl, he can still recall the 1000 Cranes of Inamura’s scarf. This is part of the nostalgia of missed opportunities, which make up the tale.
Melancholy and nostalgia are induced by a wide range of Japanese customs, ceremonies and traditions, such as cherry blossom viewing. I personally feel that earth tones for me conjure up sadness of autumn or the end of winter. The Japanese have historically preferred earth tones and organic forms of art—this is particularly true in the practices of tea ceremony and the selection utensils used in such ceremonies. (Admittedly, a splashy orange and red are used to break up this dreariness.)For a tea ceremony, every guest given a particular bowl, which has been thoughtfully selected for them. These bowls are usually of earth tone colored ceramic.
Throughout the novel, Thousand Cranes, the main male-character continually ruminates over the 300-plus years of histories of each non-perfectly-formed and glazed- piece of pottery that his father had chosen to use as student of the tea ceremony over the generations. This introspection (into a bowl or other ancient utensil) occurs even though this young man claims to not be particularly interested in attending tea ceremonies. In short, melancholy mixed with moments (or flashes) of hope and nostalgia are feelings that the young man, Kikuji seems to carry best with him--through his other-wise work-world ways as a bachelor in post-WWII Japan.
Melancholy and hope to be found in the legends of a 1000 Cranes have also been popularized in other tales in Japan from the same era as Kawabata’s novel. For example, in the 1950s when Kawabata first published Thousand Cranes (1951), the tale of 1000 Cranes became the focus of millions of tearful school children. This was, of course, the result of the now-famous “Sadako Sasaki tale”, which was of a war victim--i.e. a young female victim of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Around 1955, this young female victim of war’s genocidal weaponry was reported to have been encouraged by a visiting friend at a hospital to start making paper cranes in order to try and save her own life. So, as she lay dying of nuclear-bomb generated cancer, the girl folded origami cranes. This actual Japanese girl was named Sadako Sasaki, and she had been born and raised within one-mile of ground zero in Hiroshima. She had been only 2-years old when the bombing occurred in her city.
Some legends claim that this girl, Sadako, never finished the 1000 cranes—i.e. dying a little short of reaching her goal. However, this tale is a bit distorted. The fact is, even after making 1000 origami cranes, Sadako soon passed away in 1955. However, rather than forget her and her suffering, she became a melancholic legend. “After her death, Sadako's friends and schoolmates published a collection of letters in order to raise funds to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb.” Now, all Japanese children in schools everywhere throughout the country know the story of Sadako--and most even make a pilgrimage to Hiroshima (and the statue) before graduating from high school.
So, in the legend of Sadako, we find a parallel of symbolism and melancholy in art and beauty to match and perhaps come to dominate the tale of Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes.

2. What are some of the relationships/analogies between ceramic vessels and people?

Shino and Karatsu are among two types of traditional ceramic bowls that are important to the narration of Yasunari Kawabata in Thousand Cranes . Shino glazes came to fruition in kilns around 4 to 5 centuries ago, using a special soil “in the Tajimi and Toki areas”.
Karatsu is another ceramic-style of Japanese pottery dating from almost the same era. It also is used in tea ceremonies.
In Thousand Cranes, readers are reminded by the author, Kawabata, early on that the utensils in a tea ceremony have often been passed down for generations from one member of a family to another—or from one master of tea ceremony to their students and future masters. (They are usually quite expensive these days.) That is why some pieces of humble kitchen-ware and ceremony have now experienced three or four centuries of history (and tales or memories) through their usage.
The first time we meet all the main characters in a one scene together in Thousand Cranes , the main protagonist is found being served and drinking out of one of his father’s favorite tea ceremony bowls. That bowl is “a black Oribe” that dates to “Rikyu himself”--, i.e whether this is the Rikyu of ceramics fame or whether it is the Rikyu school for the ceremony-of-tea ceremony famed Rikyu, it is never clearly stated.
In Thousand Cranes , Kikuji, the son of one student (Mr. Mitani) of the tea-ceremony master, named Kurimoto Chikaku, falls in love with another old flame of his now deceased father. The women’s name is Mrs. Ota—and she had fallen in love with Kikuji’s father after the father had had an affair with Chikaku. In this way, the tale strikes one immediately as a set of scenes that could have been models for the Mrs.-Robinson film. In order to make the tale clearer, I should add that there are many sets of ménage-a-toi to be found in this Kawabata tale of tea-ceremony, missed chances, ceremony utensils, the life and the long shadow of the father (Mr. Mitani), and finally the adventurers his son, Kikuji.
This story, Thousand Cranes, takes place at least five years after Kikuji’s father, has passed away. In the last pages of this novel, we now find that the Shino bowl of the older woman, Mrs.Ota, has been transferred to the home of Kikuji. In the interim, Mrs. Ota had committed suicide. After the funeral, the Shino bowl had been given to Kikuji by the daughter of Mrs. Ota. The daughter’s name is Fumiko. In Fumiko and Kikuji’s last scene together, Kikuji is getting ready to drink from his father’s bowl, a Karatsu bowl that passes remarkably well to the Shino bowl of Mrs. Ota—i.e. like a pair of bowls, but of a different color and impression. Meanwhile, the daughter getting ready to prepare that Shino bowl of her mother’s with green frothy tea, but suddenly she says, “It is hard.” The brush she was using became magically stuck in place.
Moments later, Fumiko finally mutters, “Mother won’t let me.” She becomes week and Kikuji reaches out for her. Soon the ancient Shino bowl is smashed and that chapter of Kikuji’s life is soon over. The next evening, Kikuji is unable to pick up all the pieces and put the Shino bowl back together—and the relationship with Fumiko is also soon ended.
I should add that this particularly Shino bowl was whitish and well-admired by both Kikuji and--apparently years before--by his own father. However, from the perspective of the girl Fumiko, the Shino bowl is not particularly pretty as it has a “red stain” on it that she claims to be from the lipstick of her mother. By the end of the novel, we know that Fumiko has truly been against committing the sins of her mother, i.e. of falling in love with Kikuji. This desire to put the past behind her is seen in the smashed Shino bowl.
By the way, earlier, during prior episodes in the tale, Kikuji, in the house by himself has washed the same Shino bowl several times thoroughly, but after doing so, he had come to the conviction that the creator of that particular Shino ware had intentionally designed it to look less than purely white and had thus purposely left a dark organic print (a dark red or brown spot) in the cusp where people usually chose to drink from during the tea ceremony. Kikuji had quickly also considered the possibility that many generations of women, with lipstick like Mrs. Ota, may have drank from the same spot of the bowl, hence discoloring it long (many generations) before Mrs. Ota received it from her own husband (and before she had an affair with Kikuji’s father).

3. In what ways does the novel strike you as being "non-Western" in its sensibility and construction? Do you find parallels between its modes of perception and expression and the ideas expressed in the author's Nobel Lecture, "Japan, the Beautiful and Myself"?

I do not consider the story’s so foreign to me because it has twists in relationships and storytelling, which Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, and Naguib Mahfouz might have employed. The novel, Thousand Cranes , makes allusion to good and evil spirits, which particularly reminds me of ghost stories of Mahfouz and works of Latin American magical of recent decades, like Isabel Allende. On the other hand, if I had not read Donald Keene’s “The Japanese Idea of Beauty” and if I had I not lived in and studied in Japan a number of years, I would not have fully appreciated the allusions to traditional concepts of beauty and the practices carried out at a tea ceremony and in Japanese home. I thus would have had little appreciation of Kawabata’s writing.
I think the four-fold breakdown of beauty concepts as presented by Keene was particularly helpful in reading the Thousand Cranes. Keene “chose four characteristics [of beauty] that seemed to me [him] of special importance: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and perishability.” All four characters described by Keene are important to understanding most of the beauty in Kawabata’s narration. As well, Keene pointed out, that these ideas or ideals of beauty are not totally alien concepts in the West. In turn, Sakaguchi Ango, at the time that Kawabata lived—also stated of modern Japan: “A more convenient life is more important to the Japanese than the beauty of tradition or the authentic Japanese appearance [of beauty].” Sakaguchi in 1942 had claimed that the Japanese would not miss Kyoto if all the ancient homes were destroyed, but they would certainly miss streetcars (and fast trains or cameras).
Keene noted that “Suggestion” had been described by the 13th century Buddhist priest Kenko as “an aesthetic principle”. This idea of suggestion focuses not on the full-moon, for example, but on the shades of the moon—e.g. first on the moons path to becoming full-moon, barely-hinting at fullness or on the end of the moons-cycle where we can only imagine a full moon from a shade of curved light shining through a cloud. According to Kenko, “In all things, it is the beginnings and ends that are interesting.” He asks, “ Does the love between men and women refer only to the moments when they are in each others arms? The man who grieves over a love affair broken off before it was fulfilled, who bewails empty vows, who spends long autumn nights alone, who let’s his thoughts wander to distance skies, who yearns for the past in a dilapidated house—such a man truly knows what love means.”
When I look at that statement by Kenko and I turn to observed the quiet but forlorn figure of Kikuji. He is depicted by Kawabata as once-in-love man. I can clearly see that this is the brush stroke with which Kawabata paints for us in the character Kikuji, thoughout the tale of Thousand Cranes. Kikuji has flashes of great momentary life among a life of once-in-love sobriety and melancholy. In one chapter, Kikuji actually is shown staring at a glimpse of the Morning Star. Anotehr time he is sitting in the night on a veranda—in the dare. Near the end of the book, we see that he continues to live in his father’s house, which is beginning to fall apart, i.e. as described by Kenko and other Japanese artists, who have marveled at overgrown gardens and un-pruned trees or bushes.
“Irregularity” is something that Kikuji also is very adept at appreciating in the pottery of his father and of Mrs. Ota. I described [above] how, in contrast to Fumiko, Kikuji loved Mrs. Ota’s Shino bowl to the very end. It was discolored and Fumiko felt it was not of good standard—as well as, it was stained by the lipstick of generations of women. Kikuji obviously embraces Kenko’s definition of “irregular” beauty. Kenko had written: “In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it more interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.” Keene adds, “The Japanese have been partial not only to incompleteness but to another variety of irregularity, asymmetry.” Keenes emphasizes that this it much more typical of the Japanese idea of beauty than that of other Asian countries, such as China. [However, I also note that there is another incongruent drive to uniformity in Japanese society, as seen as in the test-driven schools and in mass production of products and consumerism in Japan. A famous phrase in Japan: “If a nail sticks up, hammer it down.”]
Finally, Keene has stated, “Simplicity as an aesthetic principle is, of course, not confined to houses and their furnishing [a la feng-shui]. Perhaps the most extreme example of the Japanese love for unobtrusive elegance is the tea-ceremony. . . . it was perhaps a reaction to parvenu extravagance in an age [16th century] when military men obtained sudden power and wealth. . . .it was not the forced simplicity of the man who could afford no better, but a refusal of easily obtainable luxury, a preference for a rusty-looking kettle to one of a gleaming newness.” However, Keene adds, the “tea ceremony is sometimes attacked today as a perversion of the ideal of simplicity. The prized utensils are by no means ordinary wares but may cost fortunes.”
The numerous antique bowls and tea-ceremony utensils in Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes is fairly important for understanding the beauty with which most of the main characters approach the tea ceremony and even enjoy their afternoon teas and life of intermittent love making. The somewhat evil Chikako and the much younger Kikuji are particularly appreciative of those ancient wares that they have used or have seen to be used in a ceremony. Only the daughter, Fumiko, of Mrs. Ota is intent on getting rid of the ancient and rustic tools of the world of the tea ceremony. She has decided to get a job and just to move on with her life—leaving memories of her mother and Kikuji behind.
Keene notes, “The last of the four qualities of Japanese aesthetic preference is the most unusual: perishability. In the West, permanence rather than perishability has been desired, and this has led men to build monuments of marble.” However, as we all know monuments do crumble and victory is often fleeting. Keene adds, concerning Japanese sense of beauty, “Signs of wear and tear such as the fraying of a silk wrapper or the loss of mother-of-pearl inlay from the roller would probably dismay most other people, and it is likely that the owner would send it to a restorer.” However, Keene claims that those things that look like they were made yesterday are less appreciated in the world of art and taste than elsewhere in the world. In Thousand Cranes this, too, seems to be the perspective that Kikuji has inherited from his father—and even Chikaku, who sees as an enemy of sorts--, but is not something that Fumiko desired for herself after her mother’s death.
In Kawabata’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech in 1967, he spoke of many Japanese poets and writers who had influenced him. In his speech, entitled, “Japan, the Beautiful and Myself”, Kawabata also talked about the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and the moon. Kawabata stated, “Among flower vases, the ware that is given the highest rank is old Iga, from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it commands the highest price. When old Iga has been dampened, its colors and its glow take on a beauty such as to awaken on afresh. Iga was fired at very high temperatures. The straw ash and the smoke from the fuel fell and flowed against the surface, and as the temperature dropped, became a sort of glaze. Because the colors were not fabricated but were rather the result of nature at work in the kiln, color patterns emerged in such varieties as to be called quirks and freaks of the kiln. The rough, austere, strong surfaces of old Iga take on a voluptuous glow when dampened. It breathes to the rhythm of the dew of the flowers.” Perhaps the smashed Shino bowl with the red mark had been of similar kiln development.
He continued, “The taste of the tea ceremony also asks that the tea bowl be moistened before using, to give it [the tea bowl] its own soft glow.”
Moreovere, Kawabata noted, “Ikenobo Sen'o remarked on another occasion (this too is in his Sayings) that "the mountains and strands should appear in their own forms". Bringing a new spirit into his school of flower arranging, therefore, he found ‘flowers’ in broken vessels and withered branches, and in them too the enlightenment that comes from flowers. ‘The ancients arranged flowers and pursued enlightenment.’ Here we see awakening to the heart of the Japanese spirit, under the influence of Zen. And in it too, perhaps, is the heart of a man living in the devastation of long civil wars.”
We find near the closing in Thousand Cranes , the tale of Kikuji’s maid’s handiwork. The maid simply placed a morning glory cutting into an ancient gourd, which his father had once used for such displays. The artistry of perishability was observed in the maid’s placing a momentary joy—i.e. the morning glory—into something, like a useless old broken gourde—to be enjoyed, of course, for a single morning. Such was the perishability shared to readers by Kawabata, a man who would commit suicide 4 years after giving that very speech—even though he, too, had argued against taking one’s own life in that Nobel Prize acceptance speech on beauty. [Did he do that simply to add, in the end, a splotch of red-blooded surprise to the artwork of his well-conducted life of writing and art?]


Sunday, March 28, 2010



By Kevin Stoda, already living abroad but considering returning to the USA

This past week (and month), it has become clear to most good and honest Americans that some people living in the United State’s, like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, do not need to live any more within the geographic United States anymore—that is, if they continue to evoke violence and oppose the fact that 32-Million more Americans will receive healthcare this next year due to recent congressional passage of the government health care plan.

This past week, DN [Democracy Now] noted, “Lawmakers are continuing to receive threats in the wake of the healthcare vote. New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to close an office in Queens Thursday after his staff received a threatening letter with a suspicious white powder. The letter directly referred to Weiner’s support for healthcare reform. At least ten House Democrats have reported death threats or incidents of harassment since last week. On Sunday, Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa addressed a group of Tea Partiers and urged opponents of healthcare reform to beat the other side to a pulp.”

By the way, I would say that Americans will also need a real public option really soon to get me to move back to the USA.

However, in the meantime, the couple of 1000 Americans belonging to and supporting the TEA PARTY ANTI-HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICANS MOVEMENT, should emigrate off-shore for the rest of this century.

Iowa representative, Steve King, was a bit out of control last week speaking to the Tea Party folks, “If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they’d be the folks that have been here standing with us the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that. Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s chase them out. Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!”

I recommend that Representative King get on a boat and find an off-shore island to found an alternative America on, too.

What do you think, America? Am I fanning flames or calling a spade a spade? [1]


[1] On Thursday, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, accused Democratic Party leaders of “fanning the flames.” Cantor said, “It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain. That is why I have deep concerns that some, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, in particular, are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.”


Saturday, March 27, 2010

40 Years with Morrison's Blue Eyes

The Bluest Eye

Forty years ago, Toni Morrsion published her book, THE BLUEST EYE. I had not read it until recently, i.e. when I began to take courses again on world literature to renew my teaching certification. I had always assumed that the book was related to the classical documentary and experiment of the 1960s–a study related to the colors of children’s eyes and how the children with blue eyes were made to feel superior to those with brown eyes in one Iowa elementary school. It was carried out by Jane Elliot and tells a lot about how we determine our own power and our own definitions of respect and beauty.

However, this book by Morrison, in fact predates that experiment and the blue-eye-brown-eye study by a generation or more in its incarnation. THE BLUEST EYE experiments with narration and retelling of tales with secondary narrations and three dimensional “I” or first person authors. It is also about a young black girl in Ohio, who wanted blue eyes.

It is written by the same noble-prize winning author of the book and film, BELOVED, also set in Ohio but a century earlier. In this book, THE BLUEST EYE, we are given choices as to how we evaluate a scene in time and how we decide what is beautiful and what is ugly.

1. Why do you think Toni Morrison begins The Bluest Eye with an excerpt from the Dick and Jane readers?

Several visions come to mind in answer to this question about the role of Dick ‘n Jane in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. The shortest answer is that like the almost universal “blue eye” model of beauty, which the “I” narrator abhors but which is admired by Pecola Breedlove and others in the society where the “I” author grew up, the (Dick and) Jane Reader excerpts serve as model of a safe, happy and/or beautiful homewhich life in Ohio, America where Toni Morrison (and her first person narrator) grew up. In turn, there are throughout the work, The Bluest Eye, similar ironies repeated and which are mirroring the ideals, dreams and dashed hopes of the various characters in The Bluest Eye, i.e. as each character in the book actually lives out his or her “life condition’ on earth.

Instead of choosing to repeat a childhood memory of a non-fictional (childhood) reader which might extol a particular personal virtue of a famous (non-fictional) legendary and mythical character, such George Washington, Johnny “Appleseed” Chapmen, or even Sojourner Truth, the black female author ( first-person narrator) remembers (or conjures up) and an idealized family (i.e. the mythical household of Jane) in an idealized home, place, and during an indefinite time period in American history. Therefore, it should not be under-emphasized that the childhood memory of this narrator begins with fiction—and she continues to fight this fiction in a lifelong fight or struggle she has been having with American imagery and society.

The fictional tales of young Jane (of Dick ‘n Jane fame) selected from the children’s reader are repeated by the first person narrator at regular intervals. Likewise, her similar experiences as a child are repeated. Therefore, in preparation for what is to follow, three times at the beginning of her work, The Bluest Eye, the Jane family tale is repeated by Morrison. However, each time the Jane’s Family Narration is written down, it appears with different punctuation, spacing and fonts.

This simulates a cadence, sort of mantra or rote memorization of the Happy Jane tale. One can imagine children in a circle reciting the lines from the Dick ‘n Jane books making repetitions of the imagery or simply even drumming out the “Jane text” over and over. The repetition forces or pushes the related words, ideas, images, and concepts deeper and deeper into one’s brain as one is able to repeat faster and faster the mantra of Jane’s idealized world. Later, throughout The Bluest Eye, parts of the same (Dick ‘n) Jane Tale are repeated like the sudden return of a chorus or refrain (of either a song or) some advertising jingle—a jingle which is catchy and has etched its way permanently into either our author’s mind or memory.

Pecola Breedlove is one of the key characters in this childhood world described by the first-person narrator of her small town in Ohio , America , set in the early 1940s. Pecola sees herself as ugly, but the narrator cannot and will not describe Pecola as really, truly nor authentically ugly in her own eyes. This is because the “I” narrator describes ugliness as a personal choice, i.e. Pecola is only unlovely because she considers herself ugly and falls quickly into the abyss of seeing herself (and carrying herself) as others in the majority American community in that era had labeled as ugly at first glance.

In other words, based only upon how Pecola carries herself, dresses herself and continually desires to be something different and more beautiful (like the character Jane in the book or the baby dolls with “blue eyes” marketed in the stores of the authors childhood) is Pecola actually to be identified as ugly. Ugly is as ugly does or lives, eh?

Naturally, the playfulness and (bad) behaviors of children often involve a lot of repetition and short pithy phrases or sentences. For example, the black bullies on the playground shout at poor Pecola one afternoon, “Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked. Black e mo Black e mo ya dadd sleeps nekked. Black e mo.”[p.50] Soon these bad boys, who themselves were black and whose father’s possibly also slept naked, are seen dancing around Pecola as she puts her hands over her eyes—her eyes that she prays to God will become blue some day. They continue to repeat their pithy, hateful, and demeaning or humiliating refrain.

In short, words affect and hurt people from the earliest ages and the images of those words can be manipulated by others to mess with each of our minds and our opinions of ourselves and of others. Naturally, Dick ‘n Jane tales never had any naked children nor adults in them. Nor did they tell children how babies are made or how people suffer because of harsh (abusive) usages of words, phrases and images of beauty, i.e. phrases that are repeated over-and-over, so as to mess with our minds (or to permanently imprint certain concepts onto our brains) along with forgin world views about what is good, bad or desired and hated.

Dick and Jane stories may have been innocuous to some or to even many in mainstream America of the mid 20th Century, but the images portrayed in words and picture books were for the narrator an outrage and affront against the right of one to decide for oneself what beauty is. Quite obviously, any images portrayed in children’s readers affect children’s way of viewing the world. James “Jim” Morrison [not Toni Morrison] once sang and talked about a “child’s fragile egg-shell mind”, and this image provides a good description of the fragile mindset which poor-persecuted Pecola goes through life with.

2. What lessons, ideals, and themes are conveyed by this passage? (Think about notions of family, ownership, beauty, etc.) How do these ideas manifest themselves in the body of the novel?

The world of children and adults in this novel, The Bluest Eye, is a world where perpetrators and victims play out their roles and at time turns changing their roles within the society. Naturally, by taking ever broader views of (and snippets from) the adult characters’ lives, the author eventually reveals that the adult perpetrators in The Bluest Eye who victimize youngsters, such as the first-person narrator or her neighbor Pecola, were victims, too. They all became miserable and very-non-perfect adults (not like in the Dick and Jane stories) by passing through stages of suffering, dreams, and eventually the disappearance of childhood ideals and dreams. Finally, the adults settled for much less than even their childhood dreams and nightmares had led them to expect from life.

Let’s take the idea of beauty [discussed above] as an example. The first person narrator seems to be almost the only character in The Bluest Eye who is bothered by the idea of a doll having blue eyes. Her sister and many adults in her world swoon at blue-eyed dolls—even though they have brown eyes and are African American. In short, they appear to be victim’s of majority America ’s ideals of what beautiful baby’s eyes should look like, namely blue.

The ultimate-victim, Pecola, is the one, however, who voices her desire to have blue eyes—only then, she thought, could she ever see herself as beautiful. The author sees Pecola clearly as a confused and overwhelmed victim of a world-not-of-her-making. The first-person narrator, herself, is unable to persuade others to do, see or desire things as she wants. On the other hand, the narrator and her sister help perpetrate the isolation of Pecola at the end of the book by also blaming her a bit for her own fate. [On the other hand, they try to blame the unfortunate death of Pecola’s baby on their failed flowers planted in 1941.]

Meanwhile, Pecola’s mother appears to love the world of upper class white America (and the children of that world) more than her own children. This mother loves the world of white baby girls, white towels, and white spotless clean kitchens and homes—just like we see in the Dick ‘n Jane tales and in detergent commercials. However, she loves it not only because of the whiteness but because for her orderliness is so important. (In this way, the orderliness of Dick and Jane’s families and homes would have pleased her.)

Only in her work-world, i.e. as full-time maid in White America’s suburbs, does Pecola’s mother feel happy with her life. The only thing she occasionally seems to miss is the love of a man—not the love of the child, Pecola. When the child Pecola is raped by her father, her mother seems to blame her (even as the father is permanently chased from the community). Throughout the book Pecola’s mother joins with those beating her down over the years and making her feel more and more ugly. Finally, the mother finds escape in the orderly description of final judgment in the church she attends. In this way, she always feels a bit better than the crowd around her. However, she never realizes how much of a victimizer she is in the eyes of her own child and in the eyes of the first-person narrator. This could because seeing her child as a victim would have made her world less orderly than it actually appeared to her, i.e. in her world view or imaginations as organized maintainer of good house keeping in another parallel white universe.

Likewise, the father, Cholly Breedlove, was a man who had had only one woman in his life who had helped him—and this woman wasn’t even his mother. (It was his distant aunt.) Decades earlier, his real mother had abandoned him and later ran away from her small farming town in the South. Meanwhile, his father, too, had abandoned him even earlier, i.e. while he was still in his mother’s womb.

When Cholly was a teen, he finally went looking for his father in Mason , Georgia , but his father did not recognize him—although they had the same eyes and appearance. Rejected and dirty, Cholly made his way North—only to come across his wife-to-be along the stretch heading to Ohio , where he hoped to get a good job at a steel mill. At the time he met her, she was the apple of his eye and just the kind of organized and resourceful woman any man of his generation desired to marry.

Until Mrs. Breedlove met Cholly, though, she had been waiting for life to happen. From this uncertainty, she had wanted to be rescued and taken to some better place by someone who did not take notice of her handicap, a foot damaged in a childhood accident years before. Cholly was this friendly and good-natured man, who did not see her as a “cripple”. However, when Mrs. Breedlove moved North she could not make friends as easily as Cholly did. As a matter of fact, she often walked to the tune of a different drummer and never felt comfortable in the black communities of Ohio where she and Cholly lived, i.e. under the apartment, where the town whores lived.

Eventually, in search of appreciation, in search of idealized cleanliness, and ideals of beauty (and order in a home), Mrs. Brredlove fell in love with her job taking care of a family that could both afford and appreciate her home economic skills. She felt particularly good when fighting and putting people down, e.g. yelling at Cholly, saying bad things about the prostitutes, and carrying all her suffering and burdens on her sleeve for the whole city to appreciate.

Likewise, the mother of The Bluest Eye first-person narrator had her own ideals and ran the home her own way. Sadly, this mother, too, had the nasty habit of saying things to make her children and others lose their sense of self-confidence or self-worth. That is, far too often, this mother-figure could hardly say a good word about anyone, either. Like, Mrs. Breedlove her sense of self was lifted higher often by looking down at others, i.e. with a holier-than-thou attitude. When one of the friendlier town prostitutes invited the children to drink some root beer and sit on her porch, the narrator and her sister would eventually tell this lady-of-the-night what their mother had told them, i.e. never to eat or drink with those evil women. Soon a bottle of root beer was thrown at them.

In short, the world is filled with either good or bad people, either good or bad ways of living a life, and either good or bad ways of treating others. Early in her narration, the “I” author, like her mother, seems to have a black-and-white view on everything. Only later, when Morrison switches to third person or fully omniscient narrations of the lives of Pecola’s parents as youth in the South, do we hear in the narrator’s voice become a bit more tolerant in her description of these adult characters. In this case an opportunity for a bit of empathy from the parent’s side is possible for the plight of Pecola. This is evidently because the first-person narrator is more interested in telling most of the tale sequentially to some degree. This attempt to maintain a narration level of a child’s means that the voice of a child will be more obviously adversely effected more directly by learned behaviors in the society of victims and perpetrators of small-town America than is the older third person narrator who tells the tale of the parents of Pecola when they were children and teens.

This, more neutral voice, intends to give a bases for empathy—empathy which the father, Cholly tries on occasion to offer his daughter—but he does not know how to voice such empathy. This leads Cholly to touch the evere-victimized Pecola in a way that becomes a crime—a rape. However, in this seduction, Pecola senses what she is often missing—a sense that someone finds her pleasing or beautiful.



The Words–Interviewing Oneself

It has been over 45 years since the existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre became the first free man to turn down the Nobel Prize.

According to TIMES, “In 1964, French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (who was privy to pre-announcement rumors) wrote the Nobel committee saying that if they awarded him a Prize, he would refuse it. They ignored his request and awarded him the Literature Prize that year anyway, perhaps hoping he could be persuaded to accept. He was unmoved.”

TIMES continued, “Sartre maintained that his ideals about freedom conflicted with those of the Nobel Committee and that he did not want to be ‘institutionalized’ with the prize money, then worth about $53,000—which he believed would corrupt his writing. Days after the announcement, he told a reporter, ‘A writer ought to live according to his own lights.’”

With Sartre in mind, and with a world waiting a radical philosopher leader, let’s look at the book Sartre wrote in 1964, THE WORDS, and get a feel for what the man was about in the radical 1960s (and earlier).

1. Why do you think Sartre divides his story in two parts, “Reading” and “Writing”?

If the Word is passed onto the prisoner who is chained and facing only the wall of a cave, he has to take in what he hears or has heard from others. Likewise, with his mind, he has to decide the following of what he hears: Is what hears relevant or important? Is it factual? Whether it is partially true? Likewise, much of what we know of our wider world of this planet Earth and of our Universe in Time comes to us from what others say or have written. We, from childhood onwards, can experience and have experienced only very little of what is happening or has happened on this planet. Likewise, what others have written for us or have told us makes up more and more a greater or more humongous background or foreground to what we ourselves experience. Likewise, out of this mass of knowledge and experience are words which we produce but are not entirely only our own words of concepts.

A child cannot write in any language–except his own created babble–until he has observed, listened to, read, and/or heard the words of others. We are social animals. We may, like the “Knights of Faith” in Kirkegaard’s writings, be seeking most of all a religious, ethical and ever more aesthetic experience through which to enjoy our days, but we have to work our way through the food of thought, which often comes from the experiences and writings of others.

Although the first part of Sartre’s book is called READING, this fact does not mean that READING ceased for young Jean-Paul Sartre at one age and a new age of writing began in a world he created all by himself, i.e. using words he has thought out on his own, like some amazing superman character who has more knowledge than anyone else on the planet. No. Definitely it is the case that Sartre recognizes only that he came of an age to begin to write and the basis of this skill was empowered through what he had read—even though at the earliest stages of his life he could appropriate and adapt what he had read, heard, and experienced through observing others. In the READING section of The Word, this came through written texts of both classics and children-aimed story books or popular magazines aimed at youth and adventurers.

WRITING is only a new stage in the life of Jean-Paul Sartre, and this new section, WRITING, did not mean that READING concluded, like a scene in drama, with Act 2 taking off in a completely other part of the globe in space and time. For Sartre, obviously getting to know or gaining the ability to decipher what a scribbled word could possibly mean, i.e. reading, preceded naturally his own ability to write in any narrative form. His writing was merely to a great degree an extension of what had come before his eyes over time.

One of Sartre’s early favorite French writers, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, could never have guessed how much influence he has had on future generations or how he would influence Jean-Paul Sartre or any number of American or French educators specifically, but the very idea that “existence precedes essence” would be considered by many a reader of these 20th and 21st centuries as simply a continuation of the centuries-old Nature vs. Nurture Controversy, a controversy which rolls on like the ying and yang throughout history for educators, reformers, scientists, politicians, jailers, and ethicists who have continued to argue which comes first in the modern world of progress and development.

Naturally, even spoken- and listened-to- words (or phrases) play a role in both Sartre’s education in literature and comics and in his own writings–and appropriations and adaptations of other’s work or ideas. A search across the internet on the tale’s of Sartre’s years in street cafes smoking and drinking world of Paris Cafes would be filled with how much he loved the spoken word, especially savoring his own. However, in writing, he claimed to be able to take the criticism he had gained from others and to thus be able to produce an even better work. That is he not only stood on the shoulders of giants, but he learned on the backs of his most determined critiques. However, as a speaker or debater, Sartre found only energy and motivation. Writing was what Sartre felt called to do—although by whom or by what he is called or driven exactly is not clear. He is driven also at times by a flight from or fight with boredom, but that is “another story.”


2. Characterize how Sartre invents the adult world seen from the eyes of a small boy. Is it accurate? What type of insights do children give us into understanding ourselves and the world?

Having read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye prior to reading The Words, I was struck by the continuity between the works of using the “I” author or first person narrator to tell a sort of autobiography, i.e. iconoclastic biographies. Morrison used various forms of the “I” author and juggled the order of her narration set in a time period and place of her youth. However, she took more seriously the focus of the story as an educational tool to a much greater degree while Sartre focuses more on self-revelation. In choosing this pathway, Morrison may have not gotten as far as she hoped to within the constraints of her mosaic technique—and is therefore a more direct on model narrations of century’s gone by and thus more disturbing to some degrees than the first person or “I” narrator of The Words. By this, I mean that rhythm and tempo of thoughts conveyed by the “motorboat” and at times “rootless” tempo of Sartre in The Words, are something that the reader can become used to because the tempo and dimension is always bright and apparent after a while; whereas, the sudden jump into the childhoods of the father and mother of the protagonist Pecola in The Bluest Eye come in the form of a surprisingly neutral narrative format. This format contradicts to some degree the opening ditties and bitter critiques of the “I” narration used by the same third person narration throughout most of the rest of The Bluest Eye.

In The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s narrator appears to be a child who claims to have the insight and wisdom of an adult. In this she must be some sort of prodigy. That is, in order to sort out the powers-that-be-sources in her own society at such an early age is at times less than convincing. That is, the narrator appears to be claiming in her critical voice that she doesn’t fall for the illusions of the world around her and is calling into question the order of the world at a distinctly young age. She is constantly conscious of the makers-and-shakers who are defining and determining what the people of mainstream America (in her small town) see to be beautiful (or not). From an early age, she perceives scams and cover-ups by elders. However, in such analysis, I find the Blue Eye first-person narrator appearing to fall short,. In short, her narration is more like a fly on the wall narrator at times, i.e. one with a bit of omniscience, like the real author Toni Morrison, but not with the depth of internal growth and thought one sees in Sartre’s autobiography, The Words.

The Sartre autobiography, in contrast, in using the Poulou or childhood voice as the “I” (or first person narrator) is at first much more convincing than flamboyant or outrageous. Sartre begins the book with many factually accurate facts of history, and concepts of childhood development and his growing self-confidence are found progressively throughout the book. In short, in comparison to his growing speed in thought and reflection—i.e. flashbacks and future scenes–in the second half of his WRITING section of The Words, Sartre starts READING section a bit more traditionally than Morrison, who is certainly often both consciously and overtly concerned with the problem of voice in narration of any autobiography, and is thus clearly never satisfied with her own present perspective in narrative. Sartre, too, claims to never be satisfied with his finished works, but quite obviously enjoys his present work as he puts his enrgy and flames of thought into it.

Sartre, starts his “autobiography” by talking about his family tree, dating back to the 1850s in Alsace. He starts on his mother side—not the Sartre side—to make it imminently clear that his originally-German-speaking ancestors or Alsatian tribe had a greater overall influence on him. He tells of the Schweitzers and especially of his Schweitzer grandfather, Karl, who as a teacher of languages and linguist, had the greatest of influences on his life. For example, off-the-cuff, Sartre mentions that his mother is a close cousin of Albert Schweitzer, one of the most famous Alsatians in all of history. Then, without skipping a beat, Sartre moves on—as if to say simply “That is another story”: This narration is about me—just as any self-centered child might focus on in his own self-centered narrations.

In short, Sartre, in his first two pages of writing The Words appears to be giving us a somewhat straight forward and linear autobiography—one in which he might be anticipated to tell us as balance and even-handedly as possible about key events in his early years, which in turn affected him and forged him into whom he has become.

However, Sartre’s initial paragraph in this biography goes on for more than five pages. By the end of it, one knows that Sartre is not in handing us a traditional progressive autobiographical narration. This author is a philosopher, who is interested in language and is interested in multiple levels of narration and introspection. Nevertheless, within this very-long (five-pages) introductory paragraph, we are shown characters in Sartre’s family tree who were destined to be aesthetics, ethical, and religious—all themes of Sartre’s life and evident throughout this book.

Similar to the first person “I narrator” in The Bluest Eye, I—as reader—eventually dismiss Sartre’s childhood self reflections as narrator with an authentic childlike voice. I can hardly believe that a child had so deep a knowledge of the cycles of life in literature, reading and writing, or that the voice of Sartre is in any way an accurate depiction of the world and thoughts of the child-Sartre, i.e. who is, neveretheless, the official voice or narrator of The Words. This is because Sartre is suggesting throughout that the book, especially in the WRITING section, that he fairly clearly perceives his world over time as a child and from early youth onwards feels called of the destiny to become a writer—an author, e.g. like many of his heroes who created either the works his grandfather enjoyed or who created the works of fiction, film or comic books that he also swallowed up whole, i.e. as an impressionable and opinionated (but pleasant) child.

An example of Poulou’s thinking that is not-at-all-akin to most children is found near the end of the novel when Sartre is criticizing other authors who have proven formative to him in his pre-teen (and possibly later) years. Sartre writes, “Those children lived in a state of terror. They thought they were acting and talking at random, whereas the real purpose of their slightest remarks were to announce their destiny. The author and I smiled tenderly over one another over their heads.” [p. 204]

On the other hand, the randomness or rambling stream-of-consciousness with which children speak (or retell events) is certainly part-and-parcel of Sartre’s self-narration of his childhood in The Word. This sort of reification or rambling in self-narration is present and insightful in The Words. This rambling may even at time be true for most children pretty much of the time.

From the same paragraph cited above, here is another stream of thoughts or quips by Sartre speaking as a very young teen, “And then everything turned upside down: I would find myself on the other side of the page, inside the book. Jean-Paul’s childhood resembled that of Jean-Jacques and of Johann Sebastian, and nothing happened to him that wasn’t broadly premonitory.” [p. 204] Because Sartre was now inside the book, a la Alice in Wonderland, Sartre as a child or youth could claim that he “shuddered” as he saw for the first time his own future death as witnessed by his grand children reading of it in some future narrative.

While it is true that children–and especially young teens–do begin to ponder death a bit, it is not often that they can so easily put themselves into the shoes of others—except in games played on the playground or on stage. However, for most children, i.e. without psychological problems, the moments of fear and trepidation passes. For this reason, most children do not know how many times they have died when playing war nor how often they have been killed trying to save their friend or themselves from defeat while fighting to be King of the Mountain. Most everyone shakes off such deaths and then move on. That is what children do well, i.e. in contrast to adults and older teens. Children, as a whole, can forgive, forget and move on. It is older teens and adults who seem more reticent to forgive, forget and move on in the case of disaster or life-changing events. In overcoming his fear of death, Sartre could eventually move on, too.

Meanwhile, concerning Sartre’s childhood views of the world, i.e. as exposed in The Words, Sartre’s childhood respect for Napoleon is mentioned passingly in The Words. Sartre felt he was destined to become a hero of stature—both in France and abroad. Therefore, some of his exposed childhood fears appear to have had little influence on the long shadow of his life of writings and action. This, too, appears to be a realistic part of the narration—and a personal triumph for Sartre that he came slowly to become a little more comfortable with (despite his overt rejection of the Noble Prize).

Let’s focus on young Napolean as a swash-buckling figure in Sartre’s childhood as an example of how images powered his self-image. Napoleon, like Sartre, was a physically short man but a giant of his age. It is said that Napolean carried himself tall. When he entered a room, it is claimed that people actually felt that they looked up to him. Like Napolean, Sartre never died in war and was barely five feet tall. This disadvantage (and a bad eye) did not stop Sartre from joining the military in the months leading up to WWII). In fact, after imprisonment in Germany, Sartre successfully worked with the underground along with the French Resistance inside occupied Paris. In short, although Sartre was fearful as a child of many things, including a fear of boredom and a fear of death as a failed author, but inside he was a fighter and hero—often with both action and words as his weapons.

3. Discuss both the unique and common experiences of Sartre’s childhood and identify which ones seemed to have a determining influence on his development and later, on his choice of career (philosopher and writer).

In some ways, it is difficult to speak of common childhood experiences. Some children are dragged out of their homes and are forced to beg on the street for their parents. Others have to work as migratory laborers. Others are spoiled with more video games every week. Others still have a full family living in their home. Others are divorced and never see one of their parents. Likewise, a typical childhood in Kansas of the 1970s is also not the same as that of the 80s, 90s, 00s, or 10s.

Therefore, I can best compare my own childhood experiences and recollected thoughts or memories to that of Sartre’s. My household was not a mixed-generation house hold as Jean-Paul grew up in. My grandparents lived very far away. Likewise, neither did my parents die or separate after I was born. On the other hand, I did have many of the same sort of intense experiences with reading early on that Sartre experienced. Nonetheless, despite my massive exposure to reading early on, writing came to me only after I had finished high school.

Like Sartre, my early world of books was filled with picture books, including the Children’s Bible with its fantastic colored drawings. Unlike Sartre, I do not remember adults forcing me nor pushing books on me at an extremely early age (before age 5), but I do know that by the time I was attending school regularly that my mother would come up to my (brother’s and) my bedroom to read to us at night. She was reading books that were aimed more at adults or young adults, but the stories were moving and enlightening for ones so young. My mother continued doing this until we were almost into our teens.

Meanwhile, due partially to my family having picked up (uprooted us children) and moved to a new town when I was 9 years-old, I didn’t have many friends in my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade years. So, at that time I became an avid reader of not only books—but of encyclopedias, just as was the case for Sartre. Later, in the 5th and 6th grades I came to enjoy doing extra credit by copying out texts from these encyclopedias (and other non-fiction works from the libraries) for my social studies teacher, my history teacher, and my English teacher. I, therefore, early-on practiced the art of plagiarism which Sartre practiced in his formative years of writing tales. In short, I practiced taking out paragraphs from encyclopedias and non-fiction books and enjoyed changing them slowly into my own words.

I should note that similar to Sartre’s home, my mother and father had bought an inexpensive, but colored, encyclopedia set before I even went off to kindergarten. So, in a way, I grew up with an encyclopedia as a joy and pal. I could browse through each volume at home before going to sleep at night. Those encyclopedias had interesting photos to look at from all around the world. It was very important to turn one-page-at a time on rainy days or hot summer afternoons. It enabled my fantasy and mind to wander. Importantly, this encyclopedia-set at my home soon proved to be only the beginning.

By my fourth grade year, I was going through three other sets of encyclopedias in the school library. As well, at the public library, I would read through different ones. At times, I focused on my loves—baseball and famous baseball players or football team. At other times, though, I read diligently of countries that my dad had visited in his travels decades earlier. (My father had saved up money and taken a trip around the world at when he was 21.) Sometimes I would simply go page-by-page through the entire set of volumes from AAA to ZYK very slowly—looking for anything I had missed the last time I had been grazing in that part of the alphabet.

When I was 8 or so, my dad encouraged me to read things like the Hardy Boys series. Within a two or three year period I had devoured more than 60 Hardy Boys as well as more than 20 Alfred Hitchcock and the 3 Investigators. I loved mystery and the adventure. I also read a lot of biographies of famous people, from Lou Gehrig to Nathanael Hawthorn to RFK, JFK or MLK. However, by the time I entered junior high my father was badgering me to read classics, like Les Miserable’s and the Man in the Iron Mask. My father also encouraged us teens to read the local and big city newspapers daily.

Despite all of this pressure from my father to read, I did not realize until I had moved out of my family home as an 18-year-old college student that my family had been an exception, i.e. in its emphasis on reading. My father had trained himself to be a fast reader and would eventually read at least 7000 complete books and novels before he passed away a few years ago. (What is more interesting is that my father had dropped out of university after 3 weeks. Despite that, he was a lifelong voracious reader and role model to me.)

However, despite this ambitious reading relationship and love affair with books revealed to me by my father’s life witness, I never really thought seriously of becoming a writer until I went away to college and wrote my first letter-to-the-editor. The positive feedback on that publicized writing was what started me on a long but slow journey of publicizing and blogging over the past thirty years. I recall that that first influential letter to the editor of the local Collegian dealt with the need to have better field of candidates in the college election for president. My letter inspired three other college students to run for that particular office. So, I came to know that words could lead others to become inspired and, more importantly, lead them to act. (My senior year, I even took a one journalism course before graduating with a B.A. in History and the Social Sciences. This journalist experience, in turn, led me eventually to become an insatiable writer for OP-ED News and other magazine and websites.)

As I was reading in The Word about Sartre’s grandfather warning that the young Jean-Paul that he needed to prepare to be a teacher as well as an author. I had had to nod my head in agreement at this wisdom. If an author can avoid it, he should neither unnecessarily hunger nor make his family suffer financially while he is finding himself or his voice in writing. Moreover, teaching (and it’s close access to libraries) enables one to have time to regularly thumb through or study classics and important works of writing, history, literature, new, and film. These readings are followed by lectures and speaking activities on related further topics. Eventually, such short speeches or discussions in the classroom can then be expanded into essays for others to comment on.

NOTE: Starting with my year of living abroad, I became a voracious diarist. I have been keeping diaries or journals for nearly three decades now. This has further honed my narration skills and improved my thinking as a writer. So, as I read of the little (Poulou) Sartre’s writing and rewriting without ever rereading his work, I had to recall all of the journals that I have written but not reread. In short, some of Jean-Paul’s experiences were definitely common to many authors.

4. Sartre, the philosopher, is most famously known for having written: “Existence precedes essence.” Discuss how Sartre develops this idea in The Words (particularly, in his own character, “Poulou”). If you were to fictionalize your life story as Sartre has done, would you agree with his idea that “existence precedes essence,” or do you think we are fundamentally imbued with a certain character traits or a “nature” that are/is unique and unchanging?

Poulou is one of the narrators that Sartre uses to describe his young self, embedded in the nature of other’s stories or texts. Poulou was also Sartre as a child. Sartre, the adult, stood much of Western philosophy on its head by stating that existence (even the existence of a human idea) can precede the essence of the being—at least as far as humanity goes.

With this in mind, according to Sartre’s narration in his READING section of The Words, the child Poulou is free because of many peculiar realties: (1) The youth was free because he has no father to serve as master or punisher in his rearing years. (2) Likewise, his mother appears more to be an equal or a sister to him than any matriarchal figure, someone who is happy to spoil his whims in reading comic books and going out to cinema, i.e. freeing the boy of the restrictions his grandfather, Karl Schweitzer might otherwise place on him. (3) During most of his pre-teen years, Poulou is free from the institutional constraints of a school. However, by the end of the novel, , Sartre explains that his adult philosophy has really freed him from childhood illusions.

Meanwhile, by the end of the WRITING section in The Words , Poulou is often sometimes revealed as a fearful and un-freed human, who cannot outgrow the thoughts, images, restrictions, and dreads of his present world nor the world created by his forebears. Sartre eventually outgrows this boy, Poulou. It is likely that the boy all-but-disappeared in the 1940s when Sartre’s fame as proponent of existentialism made him a national hero to youth movements in France and elsewhere. On the other hand, by the time Sartre produces The Words, Poulou is back–and not necessarily out of an act of self-exorcism (of any lingering memories of Sartre’s youth) by the aging existentialist.

By 1964, Sartre, who had been born in the bourgeois world of pre-WWI Paris and raised by exiled Alsatians, was a French superstar of the arts, philosophy and politics. He was a controversial figure (saying controversial things), but he was one who was now free to correct himself and to admit problems with earlier writings. By 1964, Poulou, along within the aging Jean-Paul Sartre, reappeared and allowed Sartre in The Word to criticize his youthful self-centeredness and launder publicly his own faults as a rude and opinionated reader and critique of literature, culture, history, and philosophy.

In The Word, Sartre came quickly to admit that he was forged as part of the world of his forebears—a world, which (in the pre-WWI French era) had been focused on war and dreamed-of victories over Germany, i.e. in order to retake the beloved Alsace and Lorraine regions. The “Rape of Alsace” was a common imagery and an oft-spoken phrase of this very era.

Sartre’s Grandfather Karl, who most influenced him in his youth, was from Alsace but had chosen to be French and had created the school of Modern Languages in Paris (in his own image?). Poulou learned of western literature at the feet of this grandfather while learning of the proletariat arts from his mother, who took him to cinema and to buy racy literature on the Seine ramparts. From his childhood onwards, Sartre desired fame and to be a hero. Poulou worried at times whether he would fail grandly in striving towards this dream. However, by 1964-1965, Sartre had more than enough public notoriety, so that he could (and did) turn down the Nobel Prize offered him—becoming once again the modest bourgeois child of his youth.

Likewise, the youthful bourgeoisie child and narrator Poulou had been interested in pursuing the asceticism and religious faith of his cousins and forefathers. (This group does not include his grandfather Karl, who was not very serious about religion.) Poulou had gone to churches and had tried to pray. Sartre as Poulou occasionally even reached out to God (or God waived at him) but then, like his Grandfather Karl, avoided him—and, likewise, Sartre at least felt or perceived that God had let him alone as a youth. Eventually, in the 1940s, Sartre would come to argue consistently the agnostic cause, i.e. stating that the world of atheism needed no God and existential theory didn’t require one either. As a matter of fact, Sartre propounded at that junction in his life, the phrase “existence precedes essence” allowed humanity to stand at the beginning of existence by himself making his own choices as to his essence or his destiny.

However, by the mid-1960s, Poulou was around–not only to be critiqued, i.e. not simply to be given short-shrift—but as a valuable discussant in Sartre’s present life of WORDS. How else could Sartre continue to learn from his past writing and philosophical conundrums if he did not recognized the narrative effects of Poulou on his present existence and memory? For example, in contrast to his earlier works, Sartre, in both the READING and WRITING sections, emphasizes in The Word that at many junctions in his life, he might have chosen the religious rather than the agnostic path. Such an admission would have been impossible for him to make in the 1940s, but by 1964 Sartre felt free and confident to do so as an elder statesman and renegade critique of European culture, literature, thought, and philosophy.

Neither is short-shrift is given by (the now much older) Sartre in The Word to discussing religion. Sartre notes that essence embodies religion but existence is only justified in retrospect [p.88]. This sort of justification colors and discolors all sense of essence. Existence is thus justified, i.e. in retrospect, through fame, honor, beauty, religion, or whatever we as humans value. Existence is preeminent but not the justification of self.

However, these values that make up any justification for being are certainly choices that each human must make. That is why Sartre still emphasizes that he is a humanist. Man can choose to have either a belief in religion or a faith in atheism, but what matters is the being of it. Living out that being or existence is the place where people have had choice—in both thought and deed since time eternity.

More importantly, since humans are existing (or beings existing) before essence, then they have ultimate responsibilities to fulfill as part of their essence. One cannot claim, I sinned or murdered because it was within the nature of man or my own personal nature. [p. 98] One always has a choice. It is by assuming the responsibility for these choices that moves us forward—forever changing the essence of our existence.

“Do people want a life without faith and without convictions?” is one of the kinds of questions that both young Poulou and the elder Sartre discuss in The Word. In the child Poulou we have an extreme-individual. Early on the world is about him only. Later, he fears what he cannot control. Finally, the elder Sartre recognizes that it is working with and within groups of other members of humanity that we also have our identity and make our choices. Poulous initially discovered this slowly when he came to know other boys from the boarding lyceum, where he was sent from the age of 11 onwards. In short, although individual responsibility is inherent in the existence of man, working and playing with others in groups is an option to pursue in changing humanity’s (life) essences and thus our own.

As a whole, I agree that Sartre’s philosophy or world view is possible for some to have without a God. I think it is a good philosophy, but I can see it as applicable to my God (even as a Christian) because in my Bible, in the Book of John, we find that in the Beginning was the Word. Therefore, either the object or the subject of humanity can exist first or second in a chain. However, the important role we humans play is in filling and defining the essence of our lives. This is where choice resides.

Similar to the elder Sartre’s belief, I think that a mature individual has a choice in everything he undertakes. To a great extent, Sartre is accurate. On the other hand, in the end, knowing about choice and recognizing choice in our lives is far too difficult for most individuals to realizs as the choices that we masses of humanity have had to often face have had foundations laid before us in truly limiting ways. We saw examples of this sad apparent lack of authentic individual choice in the lives of many of the characters in Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. In short, where one is born or at the point of “the essence of the world in which we individuals exist” continues to be determinant of the degree to which we have access to an appropriate variety of options and choices in life. Only over time, can we progressively gain footholds to force more options and essences to enfold.

This is what has happened to Poulou. He grew into John-Paul Sartre but existed still. However, he existed with a greater sense of control over his essence and life’s essence.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010




I call on all time-share owners world-wide to contact the U.S. government and discourage the continued support some of criminals (the worst military men) against humanity in the country of Indonesia. Tell Obama to force the fingers off the triggers by setting an example with Indonesia this Spring.

Amy Goodman of DEMOCRACY NOW [DN] interviewed Alan Nairn twice in the past week. First, Goodman said, “Since Allan Nairn broke the news of the assassination program here on Democracy Now! last Friday, the Indonesian press has been buzzing with the allegations. A military spokesman told the Jakarta Globe that the military is considering legal action against Allan Nairn. Earlier today, Allan issued a public threat—a public challenge to the Indonesian military to arrest him so that he could face off with the military in open court.”

She added, “Allan Nairn is no stranger to the Indonesian military. In 1991, Allan and I survived a massacre in East Timor, when more than 270 Timorese were killed by US-backed Indonesian soldiers. In 1999, Allan sneaked back into East Timor and reported on the Indonesian military atrocities there as the Indonesian soldiers burned much of East Timor to the ground. They arrested Allan, but he continued reporting from prison.”

Alan Nairn stated on DN today, “I welcome this threat. I just put out a statement on my WEBSITE

saying I welcome this threat. They should arrest me, so that we can face—have a face-off in open court. And we’ll describe in open court, before the Indonesian public, how the Indonesian armed forces are assassinating civilians. I’ll detail the massacres, the disappearances, etc. And I will attempt to call TNI generals as witnesses and question them under oath and will also attempt to call US officials as witnesses—US officials from the White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department—and ask them, under oath, to tell the Indonesian public in a trial why they have been giving arms and training, year after year after year, to an Indonesian armed forces as they’ve been killing civilians. As the US has seen the results of their arming and training of people like General Sunarko of thousands of other top officers, the US has continued to pour in weapons and training to facilitate these murders. So I want to get a chance to put the CIA station chiefs, the US military attachés to Indonesia, the generals from the Pentagon, the national security advisers—maybe the presidents, if that’s legally possible—put them on the stand here in Indonesia in court and ask them, under oath, ‘Why did you do this? Why have you done this to the civilians of Indonesia?’ and ask the same questions to Indonesian generals. So I’m challenging the Indonesian military, if they’re serious, if they really believe their own denials, I’m challenging them to arrest me.”

Although I love the people of Indonesia, their cultures, and their food, I avoided traveling to the country until after the 1999 victories of democracy in Indonesia and East Timor.

Later, I traveled to Bali for the first time in the wake of the Bali bombings—a home grown terrorist threat in Indonesia by Islamic extremists and ultra national Indonesians.

I later bought a timeshare on a neighboring island of Bali’s—I made the purchase partially with the goal of regularly writing my congressman and senators in the USA and tell them to be concerned about global warming (as archipelagos are greatly effected by the rising sea level and temperatures). Now I want to tell OBAMA and the worst Congress money can buy, “Quit helping Murderers!”

If Indonesians does not get their military officers on a leash, I will sell my share of property in Indonesia.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010



By Kevin Stoda, non-drug-user but angry about waste of lives and money for decades

Today, in the daily DEMOCRACY NOW [DN] News Program, the following was reported in Afghanistan:

“The US military . . . has confirmed it’s ended poppy eradication in several areas of Afghanistan. US forces have previously targeted Afghan farmers responsible for poppy crops that produce large quantities of opium and heroin. But the US says it’s ended the eradications in a bid to win over Afghan support. A US military official said, ‘We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.’”,26174,1973998,00.html

I think that is an important phrase to repeat in NORTH AMERICA, don’t you?

“We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.”

Let’s Stop the WAR ON AMERICAN—alias THE WAR ON DRUGS--, or better known as America’s Longest War.

THAT WAR on DRUGS has been extremely wasteful of the lives’ of minorities and marginalized Americans for decades.

Even the enforcer of the U.S. War on Drugs, i.e. the so-called DRUG CZAR, Gil Kerlikowske, has called for the END of the WAR. In 2009, he said, "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

This is how most people in North America, see the issue: “What there is is a cynical program of political duplicity; the intent of which is not to prevent drug abuse (which it encourages), but to create a climate of distrust, fear, hostility, alienation, divisiveness, and violence within our society. The so called ‘War on Drugs’ is in reality a war of cultural prejudice waged primarily against the young, the poor, the non-white and the socially disaffected to the advantage of the Elected, the Corporate, the Privileged and the Few.”

Last Charles Bowden spoke last week on DN on the topic of “The War Next Door”. Bowden was speaking just after US foreign service personnel were killed in violence near Juarez, Mexico—the murder capital of the world thanks to our “border wars”. Bowden noted:
“We’re spending $30 to $40 billion a year on narcotics officers in this country. Every state in the union, if you get out of the house and drive, is now studded with little prisons, some private. They’re all dependent on the—on laws outlawing drugs. The income from drugs in Mexico exceeds all other sources of foreign currency, except possibly oil, and that’s debatable. In other words, if President Calderon succeeded in his claimed goal of eradicating the drug industry in Mexico, Mexico would collapse in a minute. That’s what I mean. I mean, why don’t we face the fact that drugs are like alcohol? They’re part of our culture now. They’re not going away. If we want to make them illegal, we can continue to live the way we have: imprisoning our own people, creating a police state, having prisons everywhere. But no matter what we do, they’re going to be in the neighborhood, just as they are.”
Bowden continued, “There was an interesting government study released a while ago that said 232 American cities now have the presence of Mexican drug organizations. Well, look, I’m a little older, possibly, than some of your listeners, but if you bought a joint in 1975, it wasn’t coming from Finland or some place. They’ve always been here. It’s a market. All we’ve got to decide is whether it’s legal or illegal. That’s it. It’s like gambling. It’s got a life of its own. But we are destroying, or helping to destroy, a country next door by our policies. Although there are many explanations for the problems in Mexico, and most of them lie with Mexicans, but certainly our economic policy, NAFTA, our drug policies, the war on drugs, and our militarization of the country have proven to be nothing but a disaster for the Mexican people.”

People, like me who see the connections between the war on drugs, war on terror, and the military industrial complex running the political-, social- and economic landscapes of good-hard working (when there are jobs) Americans think that the current policy in Afghanistan’s poppy fields should be as soon as possible the liaise faire approach of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. “[D]on’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.’”


Tell your congressmen to get America’s military- and incarceration budgets under the 1% level of the U.S. ASAP.

Imagine, how such a revolutionary political approach came from local, national and regional leadership and pulpit punchers.



Kansas Bishop Jones Restates Church's Belief that HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT

In a bid to caution many mainstream Americans (including Christian ones) from going at each other’s throats on health care, the Kansas Area Bishop for the United Methodist Church felt called to circulate the following statement asking peoples to not use nor misuse the issue of “Health Care” and recent legislation to perpetuate a greater cultural divide.

The Bishop, Scott Jones, emphasized in a church circular that the church has been unified on the matter of health care actually being a human right for a long long time–for centuries–althought, the Church had made this specifically clear in 1999.

Read the full statement circulated in churches last weekend (below).


Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones released the following statement March 22, 2010 regarding the United Methodist Church’s role in the passage of health care reform over the weekend. Please feel free to share these remarks.

Bishop Scott Jones’ statement:

The United Methodist Church has had a concern for health care for more than 250 years. We have founded medical clinics, hospitals and medical schools. We have delivered health care to the poor. We have a long history of advocating for public health practices such as reducing use of tobacco and alcohol. We believe that God seeks the best for all people, including their health.

Many current health care issues are complicated, and yet we have a consistent position seeking care for all. The Social Principles urges all persons to pursue a healthy lifestyle. It also says that “Health care is a basic human right” and “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.” In 2008 the General Conference adopted Resolution 3201 “Health Care for All in the United States”


Based on this resolution, the General Board of Church and Society worked for health care reform without endorsing any particular bill. I believe that the General Board worked for the principles contained in our church’s teaching.

Many faithful and loyal United Methodists disagree with this particular legislation. While believing that health care for all is important, they think there are better ways of achieving that important goal than the ones contained in this legislation. Some of our United Methodist members of Congress voted against this legislation while others voted for it. It is quite appropriate that we have a diversity of opinion about the best ways to achieve a better society for all God’s children. Two related issues are important here.

One should remember that George W. Bush, George McGovern, Robert Dole and Hillary Clinton have all been faithful United Methodist Christians who served their country in the political arena. At various times, different parts of our church have been angry with different ones of these persons, but I am proud to serve a church that includes such great leaders as these.

Second, we are people of the extreme center who should resist polarizing and demonizing influences in our culture. We should be talking about issues faithfully and carefully with mutual respect for those who disagree with us. God expects us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the way we carry out our political activities should reflect that kind of love for all.


Sunday, March 21, 2010



By KEVIN ANTHONY STODA, International Educator

Last Monday, it was reported on DEMOCRACY NOW in New York City, that in“education news, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled the New York City Department of Education discriminated against the founding principal of an Arabic-language school in Brooklyn by forcing her to resign in 2007. In a non-binding ruling, the commission said the city had discriminated against the principal Debbie Almontaser ‘on account of her race, religion and national origin.’ Almontaser is a Muslim of Yemeni descent. Almontaser was forced to resign from the Khalil Gibran International Academy after a campaign by right-wing activists and media outlets. Almontaser has fought to be reinstated to her post for the past three years.”

In the media, Debbie Almontaser was shown elaborating, “I’m not just standing up for my own rights, but I’m standing for the rights of Arabs and Muslims across the country. As you can clearly see, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment that is going around this country is quite startling. And, you know, the fact that we’re living in a new McCarthy era is quite, you know, fearful for many people. So I hope that my case will certainly set national and international precedents that Arabs and Muslims cannot be treated in this way.”


I think that the EEOC will have to function in the future to protect all teachers because most educational organizations have not done so with any strength. This lack of a strong voice has hurt education greatly for over half a century.
Amy Goodman became part of her interview with this question: “Can you go back in time for us, Debbie Almontaser, and explain what happened—first, about Khalil Gibran, the founding of this school, and how that happened?”

Almontaser replied, “So, Amy, the way that it all came about was New Visions for Public Schools and the Department of Education was interested in creating an Arabic dual language school. They spent six months looking for someone, and every time that they spoke to individuals in city government, at the Department of Education and in the community, everyone referred them to me. They referred them to me because of my work as an educator. I’ve been in the system now nineteen years. They referred them to me for the bridge-building work that I’ve been doing between Christians, Jews and Muslims. The incredible inter-faith work that I’ve been engaged in just showed that I was a perfect candidate for this. And so, New Visions for Public Schools invited me for a meeting. We spent two hours where they were convincing me this is the next step of my career. Shortly after that, I engaged in putting together a design team and, with the help of the community, finding a lead partner. And we ventured on the creation of the school. And the design team that I brought together was as diverse as the City of New York—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, who were truly, truly engaged and compelled by the mission and vision of such a school and who—some of them wanted their own children to go to this school.”

Sadly, long before progressives and centrist Americans understood what a great propaganda campaign we were under in the 1990s, many generations were already suffering—and great American educational visions were being smashed left and right from the 1970s onward across the USA.

Let me explain.

When I was in the fifth grade in a small Missouri town, Wentzville, in the early 1970s, we had a class on Africa, its culture, geography and people once or twice a week. In sixth grade we had a class on Latin America five days a week. By the 1980s, such programs in most cities and towns in America no longer existed.

If we look at the struggles of educators, like that of Almontaser over the last three years, I now personally hope that other American teachers, educators, and other adversely-treated whistleblowers— & who are unfairly forced to resign--will have the will to persist and outlive their persecutors.

Moreover, with this EEOC decision in hand, they should try and consider not falling on their swords so often in the face of bullying Board of Educations across America [and in the face of Xenophobic or Extremist groupings who are ready to fight and shout-down justice and fairness where it is being supported by educators].

On the other hand, based upon my friends’ and my own experiences in Kansas school districts in the 1980s and 1990s, both budding and mature educators need 10,000% more support from the teachers unions, administrators, parents, students, and State Boards of Education [and of State Boards of Equal Opportunities, etc.] across America.

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ruling comes three years into Almontaser’s fight for reinstatement. The ruling calls on the Department of Education to reach a ‘just resolution’ in accordance with Almontaser’s demands. In addition to reinstatement, she’s also seeking back pay, damages and legal costs. But New York City officials are refusing to reverse their stance.”

For many decades now, boards of education across the land have been overstepping their bounds and trying to manipulate sound educational principles of inclusiveness and well-rounded educational philosophy due to political (mostly conservative and extremist) ends. Back in the 1980s, an alumni from my alma mater was forced out of her elementary school position in one Kansas town, southeast of Wichita, where she had begun to expand the curriculum to include information on Latin America. [This great young teacher had gone to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace in opposition to U.S. war-making on that country throughout the 1980s. She realized that students at the school and the people in that Kansas town had no real understanding of geography, global politics, and economic history.] Despite being tenured, this great young instructor was forced to resign by the local Board of Education after she had put some powers-that-be on the spot by making her views and voice known in the media, through letters-to-the editor, and elsewhere.

Similarly, two years earlier, another former classmate of mine had left his brilliant teaching career after only one year for similar reasons. That was in a town just north of Wichita. He, too, had had more than a few qualms about the almost intentionally closed-world his high school students were being trained and raised in, i.e. to fight distant wars in unknown parts of the globe in the name of God and Country.

Finally, in the early 1990s, I, too, would find myself run out of Western Kansas by a school principal and some closed-minded people when I let my own writing hands and personal elocution get to work. First, I had condemned the open door policy for military recruiters in the school cafeteria and hallways. Later, I had written letters-to-the-editor in several Kansas newspapers condemning the U.S.-led war in Kuwait (while at the same time decrying the great prison-building-spree taking place across-the-Plains while education budgets were being cut that same year).

What I found particularly sad in that era was that in none-of-these three cases did the local NEA even lift a finger for my friends nor I. In my case, the local NEA representative told me I would have to wait to be tenured before they would make a court case of such misguided educational- and social-political escapades and bullying.


Almontaser reported how her dream of building an Arab-American bilingual public school became a personal nightmare for her and her family, “[S]hortly after it [the planned opening of such a school in 2006] was announced in the New York Times, in forty-eight hours, the right-wing blogs began to blog about the school, that it was going to be a madrasah, that it was going to be indoctrinating children. And several weeks later, they realized that I was an Arab and Muslim and decided to also then editorialize about me. And what’s sad about all of that is they just took snippets to create this foreign individual, versus looking at the person that I was and how integrated my family was in New York City.”

In short, it was the small-town rumor technique, which the Conservative think tanks have been running for decades that created a monster-like character of poor Mrs. Almontaser, “They [the hate all-Arab bloggers] never made mention of the fact that my son served at Ground Zero as a National Guardsman. They never made mention of the fact that my family has several individuals in the New York Police Department, and, for that matter, individuals who actually are Marines and who have actually served in Iraq. So they created this caricature of me that portrayed me as this foreign entity that people should be afraid of, versus the incredible person that many people across the city knew. And what was alarming about it was my colleagues and my friends were just in shock that people could create such havoc. And so, as the days progressed and weeks progressed, in June, a group of people formed this organization called the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, and they made it their job to continue editorializing about the school.”

Another interviewer on DEMOCRACY NOW noted, “Well, the ruling by the EEOC, it’s fascinating. It said that it was the Post article that prompted the Department of Education to force you to resign. This is a quote. It says, ‘Significantly, it was not her actual remarks, but their elaboration by the reporter—creating waves of explicit anti-Muslim bias from several extremist sources—that caused DOE to act,’ the commission’s letter said. So, explain what exactly the article said. The headline—I forgot the headline, but it was something like ‘revolting,’ or something like that.”

In short, character assassination by-innuendo was the way the Murdoch paper worked to persuade the NYC Board of Education to force her to resign—otherwise they had told her they would kill-her-baby, i.e. not allow the new Arab-American school to open. In the face of such an onslaught, the good teacher and administrator chose to resign at the last minute—rather than be held responsible any shame brought to the school by her further presence as chief administrator and key founder of the institution, the Khalil Gibran International Academy.


Amy Goodman noted, “New York City officials are refusing to reverse their stance. Paul Marks of the New York Law Department said, quote, ‘The [Department of Education] in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated. If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations.’”

Those are the same types of statements that the school (and school board of education lawyers) across Kansas and the USA have been using to kow-tow young and middle aged educators for far-too-long. Alan Levine, Almontasar’s lawyer, noted that as in Almontaser’s case the NYC Board of Education has its own choices to make: Will it kow-tow to bigots or change its mind? Or will the NYC BoD listen to the EEOC or hold its ground?

Levine noted, “Well, the popular conception about all this was that Debbie was the victim of a smear campaign. And she’s described that smear campaign. But she was really the victim of the Department of Education. The bigots in the community had no power to fire; the Department of Education did. They succumbed to the bigots. So that’s the significance.”

Admittedly, even in Kansas, I have seen some school board members come to me and encourage me in my work and in my educational efforts, but they hardly ever did so publicly and often [but not always] this support came too late.
Admittedly, I have resigned at least twice over the decades, too, to save “my baby”.

For example, in one high school, I resigned with the hope that the major international exchange program would continue to take place annually--even after I was gone. In another case, I resigned prior to another international excursion I had organized for students of mine and their parents, so that that international and cross-cultural educational trip [for at least these people in the community] would be saved from the political infighting of the Board of Education members.

For me, the reality of the fact that these international exchanges and trips continued on into the future, i.e. without me, was like the point at a distance from a rainbow, where I could enjoy (but not touch) the beautiful colors. However, no pot of gold would ever await me at the end of the rainbow in those cases. On the other hand, in the wake of the EEOC decision, i.e. in Almontaser’s case, there may be hope at the end of the rainbow.

Amy Goodman asked Almontaser, “[W]hat have you been doing over the last three years? Do you feel you were irreparably harmed by what took place?”

Almontaser explained, “Absolutely. I have suffered quite immensely in terms of emotionally, and I certainly believe that, you know, there needs to be, at the end of this—you know, at the end of the rainbow, there will be something positive. And so, what I’ve been doing the past few years, I’ve worked at central headquarters at the Department of Education. And more recently, I lost my assistant—my principal-assigned position and have reverted back to a teacher line. So I’ve actually suffered, you know, financially based on this. So I’m presently working at a Brooklyn high school as their special education coordinator.”

In short, Almontaser suffered both emotionally and financially over the past three years, but the NYC Board of Education are not helping Almontaser reach her dream at the end of a rainbow. However, she may be allowed to run her dream school some day—if the Board of Education accept the fact that they made a mistake and bullied a very highly qualified peacemaker and cross-cultural educator out of her job 3 years ago.