Saturday, December 22, 2007
The Green Stick: A Voice of Clarity and Truth Resurrected
Written by Chris Floyd
You open the book, you turn the page, and once again you are in that familiar drawing-room, clutching your invitation to the soiree of Anna Pavlovna Scherer and being ushered over to pay your respects to her ancient, beribboned aunt. Then you take your long-accustomed place among the guests: the pert little Princess Bolkonsky with her needlework; the suave and repulsive Prince Vasily; the celebrity exile, Viscount Mortemart; and Princess Helene, whose astonishing yet deadening beauty gleams in the shining flesh of her bare shoulders and diamond-draped bosom...then at last to the fat, bumbling bear, the bastard Pierre Bezukhov, and his sworn friend, Prince Andrei, resplendent in his dry, sharp, angry gloom.
How many times have you been here, going back almost thirty years from your first entrance? A half a dozen, maybe more. Yet here you are again; and again, from the very first you are drawn back into that world that has lived inside you as vividly as your own life. And you know you will be there again through all twelve hundred pages; you have never yet stopped and walked away.
But this time, there is something different about the encounter. This time in the drawing room -- that light, brief curtain-raiser to the oceanic depth and immensity that lies ahead -- the figures look sharper. They speak in somewhat different tones, more distinct and differentiated. They are more creaturely in their gait and movements. And the prose that animates them has more of the rough grain of reality than before.
This is the new edition of Tolstoy's War and Peace, translated by Richard Pevear and his wife, Larissa Volokhonsky. Published this year to general acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, it is perhaps the closest that any English-speaking reader can come to Tolstoy's Russian. Pevear and Volokhonsky have made a specialty of this kind of thing in recent years, sandblasting away the prettied-up prose and smooth Anglicisms that have encumbered the translations of most great Russian novels. Their efforts have been particularly effective with the works of Dostoevsky, whose strange, polyphonic rhythms were almost completely obscured for a hundred years until Pevear and Volokhonsky's landmark translation of The Brothers Karamazov, which also made their reputation as the premier Russian translators of the age.
Tolstoy's prose is more "simple" and straightforward than that of many Russian writers; I remember my great relief at finally reaching Tolstoy in my Russian-language literature classes after weeks of wrestling with Gogol's hilarious but torturously convoluted language. It's hard to "lose" Tolstoy completely even in the most gussied-up (or, in my college case, badly done) translation; he drives so relentlessly at the truth and reality he is trying to convey that its burning core always comes across, usually with great power. (The Penguin Tolstoy translations by Rosemary Edmonds are particularly fine in this regard, despite making the pugnacious little Russian sound like, well, a typical Penguin author, a purveyor of finely-rendered -- and very English -- fiction.)
Yet even in the early stages of my reading of Pevear and Volokhonsky's rendition, I can see that they have made something new and different -- and much more Tolstoyan. It doesn't flow smoothly and exquisitely; it has, as I said, much more of a grain to it, to catch and snag reality, hold it in front of us for a moment so that we can see it with new clarity. Paradoxically, this greater "awkwardness" makes Tolstoy's artistry -- "periodic structure, emphatic repetitions, epic similes," in Pevear's words -- more clear. In particular, you can see how he employs that repetition of words -- sometimes using the same word as many as five times in a single short passage -- as a hammer to drive his point home, and to serve as a marker of his commitment to truth over questions of mere style. In his short but informative introduction, Pevear quotes Boris Pasternak on Tolstoy's art and insight:
All his life, at every moment, he possessed the faculty of seeing phenomena in the detached finality of each separate instant, in perfect distinct outline, as we only see on rare occasions, in childhood, or on the crest of an all-renewing happiness, or in the triumph of a great spiritual victory. To see things like that, our eye must be directed by passion....
Such passion, the passion of creative contemplation, Tolstoy constantly carried within him. It was precisely in its light that he saw everything in its pristine freshness, in a new way, as if for the first time. The authenticity of what he saw differs so much from what we are used to that it may appear strange to us. But Tolstoy was not seeking that strangeness, was not pursuing it as a goal, still less did he apply it to his works as a literary method.
[Pasternak is another Russian author who has been particularly ill-served by his translators. In fact, the main reason I took up Russian studies in the first place all those years ago was in the secret hope that one day I would be able to do Pasternak justice in new translations of his poetry and his novel, Doctor Zhivago. Unfortunately, my Russian was never good enough for this task; nor, as it turned out, was my English. But perhaps Pevear and Volokhonsky could take on Pasternak as their next project.]
Pevear notes another strange aspect of Tolstoy's art:
I was struck, while working on the translation...by the impression that I was translating two books at the same time. Not two book in alternation...but two books simultaneously. One is a very deliberate and self-conscious work, expressive of the outsize personality of the author, who is everywhere and present, selecting and manipulating events, and making his own absolute pronouncements on them: "On the twelfth of June, the forces of Western Europe crossed the borders of Russia, and war began -- that is, an event took place contrary to human reason and the whole of human nature." It is a work of provocation and irony, with broad and elaborately developed rhetorical devices....The other [book] is an account of all that is most real and ordinary in life, all that is most fragile and therefore most precious, all that eludes formulation, that is not subject to absolutely pronouncements, that is so mercurial that it can hardly be reflected upon, and can be grasped only by a rare quality of attention and self-effacement....It seems to me that the incomparable experience of reading War and Peace comes from the shining of the one work through the other."
I was once fortunate enough to stand in the room where Tolstoy wrote much of War and Peace, in the house on his family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in the countryside near the city of Tula, about 100 miles south of Moscow. Or rather, I stood in a reconstruction of the room. The Nazis burned down the mansion when they paid their visit to the area in 1941. However, most of contents of the house had been removed before the Germans got there, and was brought back when the house was restored after the war. I also saw the hard, black upholstered couch where Tolstoy -- and all of his children -- had been born.
It was a strange trip -- a package tour, on a long bus ride from Moscow -- with a strange guide, who seemed to be going through some kind of emotional crisis at the time: his eyes red-rimmed from crying, his clothes slightly disheveled. But he told us several interesting stories, in his careful English, on the way to the estate, which was now a museum and park. When we arrived, the parking lot was nearly full, but the two gift shops, which offered books -- translated crime and action thrillers from the West mostly -- were closed. It was late autumn, very chilly, but not yet the full blast of Russian winter. We made our way through a number of wedding parties gathered in the parking lot: giddy youngster still in ornate gowns and stiff new suits. "It is the practice," said our guide, "for Russian newlyweds to visit some local shrine of note on their wedding day. In Moscow, they may go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where eternal flame honors the dead of the Second World War; in Petersburg, they lay flowers before the famous Bronze Horsemen. And here in Tula region, they come to Yasnaya Polyana." (Yes, I did take notes at the time, and can still -- barely -- make them out, almost 14 years later.)
Long trails through columns of birch led us to Tolstoy's unmarked grave: a small earthen mound on the edge of a shallow ravine. "This," said the guide "is where Tolstoy and his brother tried to find the 'green stick.' Nikolai, the brother, told Lev there was a green stick somewhere in these woods that would guarantee the goodness and happiness of the world, if only they could find it. Lev searched for many days here, many years as a boy, but he did not find it."
As he stood shivering in the wind -- for some reason, he wearing only a thin, wrinkled trench coat over his street clothes, woefully inadequate to the weather -- the guide's eyes filled with tears again, and his language grew halting. "I think...I think we should perhaps honor this man, who made, perhaps, many mistakes, and was perhaps cruel in some ways to those who loved him. But he wanted what was good and just, and tried very hard to find it." And there his search had ended, beneath that unmarked mound, so small it could have been a child's grave -- the child who searched in vain for the green stick.
But the voice he gave to the reality he apprehended with such astonishing clarity is not buried. It is with us still, speaking the word, speaking the world of life, the mercurial moments, dying even as they rise, yet imbued with imperishable meaning.
*Illustration: a portrait of Tolstoy by Leonid Pasternak (the writer's father).*
Friday, December 21, 2007
At 9:30 am Friday, Dec 21, a survey crew arrived at the site of the Bear Mountain Interchange in Langford to begin staking out the route for the new highway. By 11 am, around a dozen campers and supporters moved to peacefully block the crew from working. The campers and supporters are there to protect Spencer's Pond, Langford Lake Cave and rare wildlife from destruction.
Chants of "the people united will never be defeated!" could be heard through the forest.
More supporters and witnesses are needed today, this weekend and next week, including Christmas. It is not likely that people will be arrested today, as they are not breaking any laws. However, we expect that the City of Langford and Bear Mountain Resort will apply for a court ordered injunction to remove the campers.
The survey crew appears to be private contractors hired by the city or the resort.
The tree sit camp includes six forest defenders on platforms high in the trees, along with many more people camping on the ground . The Spaet Mountain Action Coalition has promised to protect the forest by all peaceful means, including risking arrest by committing civil disobedience.
On Thursday, three uniformed RCMP officers accompanied by four plainclothes officers visited the camp and photographed the platforms, the tripod over the cave, and the traverse lines connecting the tree sits high in the forest canopy.
For more info: 885-8219.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The Mad Corporate World of Glenn Beck
Media Beat (12/19/07)
by Norman Solomon
Media Beat (12/19/07)
by Norman Solomon
see the video here.
When I picked up a ringing phone one morning in mid-December, the next thing I knew a producer was inviting me to appear on Glenn Beck’s TV show.
Beck has become a national phenom with his nightly hour of polemics on CNN Headline News -- urging war on Iran, denouncing “political correctness” at home, trashing immigrants who don’t speak English, mocking environmentalists as repressive zealots, and generally trying to denigrate progressive outlooks.
Our segment, the producer said, would focus on a recent NBC news report praising the virtues of energy-efficient LED light bulbs without acknowledging that the network’s parent company, General Electric, sells them. I figured it was a safe bet that Beck’s enthusiasm for full disclosure from media would be selective.
A few hours later, I was staring into a camera lens at the CNN bureau in San Francisco while Beck launched into his opening. What had occurred on the “NBC Nightly News,” he explained, “was at best a major breach of journalistic integrity.” And he pointed out: “The problem isn’t what NBC is promoting. It’s what they’re not disclosing.”
A minute later, Beck asked his first question: “Norman, you agree with me that they should have disclosed this?” The unedited transcript tells what happened next.
Solomon: “It’s a big problem when there’s not disclosure. I’m glad you opened this up. And I wouldn’t want any viewers of this program to be left with the impression that somehow General Electric is an environmentally conscious company.
“On the contrary, they have a 30-year history of refusing and actually fighting against efforts to make them clean up the Hudson River, which GE fouled with terrible quantities of horrific PCBs, other rivers as well. People told they can’t fish in the Hudson River. General Electric still lobbying to not have to clean up.
“General Electric, even today -- and this report is very timely -- General Electric is lobbying to get Congress to pass $18 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for a huge GE product which is General Electric components for nuclear power plants. So we should not be fooled in any way by efforts to greenwash General Electric or any other company.”
Beck: “You know what’s amazing to me? GE has a bigger budget for -- special interest budget than all of the oil companies combined, and yet nobody says anything. Let me reverse this.
“Norman, do you think if I got on as somebody who says I don’t know what we can do about global warming, I’m not sure man causes it, and I certainly don’t want to have laws and regulations on this, if I got on and said that but I was being -- my corporate -- my corporate parent was Exxon Mobil, do you think I’d get away with that for a second without that being on the front page of the New York Times?”
Solomon: “Well, other networks, including General Electric’s NBC, have been very slow on global warming. And in fact, General Electric has major interest in components and products used by the oil and gas industry.
“I think if you look across the board, all the major networks, even so-called public broadcasting, which has Chevron underwriting its ‘Washington Week’ program every Friday, there is a problem, as you say. I think your words are very apt, ‘promoting’ but ‘not disclosing.’
“But let’s be clear about this, Glenn. I have a list here, for instance, that I jotted down.
“ABC, owned by Disney. ABC doesn’t disclose in their relevant news reports about Disney’s stake in sweatshops.
“Fox News -- and now as of the last couple of days now, Wall Street Journal owned by the same entity, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp -- they don’t disclose that the ownership is entangled with the Chinese government to the detriment of human rights but to the advancement of the profit margin of the parent company.”
Beck: “See --”
Solomon: “We would be remiss, Glenn, if we left out CNN, because CNN has a huge multi, multibillion-dollar stake in Internet deregulation and the failure of the Congress to safeguard so far what would be called net neutrality. So every time CNN does a news report on the Internet, on efforts to regulate or deregulate or create a two- or three-tier system of the Internet, CNN News should disclose that Time Warner, the parent company, stands to gain or lose billions of dollars in those terms.
“And one more thing.”
Beck: “Real quick.”
Solomon: “A major -- a major advertiser for CNN is the largest military contractor in the United States, Lockheed Martin. So when you and others --”
Beck: “I got news for you, Norman. Norman --”
Solomon: “-- promote war -- when you and others promote war on this network --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “-- we have Lockheed Martin paying millions of dollars undisclosed. So I would quote you --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “Promoting but not disclosing is a bad way to go.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you this. First of all, Lockheed Martin is not a -- not a corporate overlord of this program.”
Solomon: “It’s a major advertiser on CNN.”
Beck: “That’s fine. That’s fine. Advertisers are different. But let --”
Solomon: “Well, it is fine, but it should be disclosed.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you something. If you think that it’s warmonger central downstairs at CNN, you’re out of your mind. But that’s a different story.”
Solomon: “Well, upstairs, when I watch Glenn Beck, in terms of attacking Iran, it certainly is. It’s lucrative for the oil companies, as well as for the major advertiser on CNN, Lockheed Martin.”
Beck: “But we’re not talking about advertisers. We are talking about --”
Solomon: “Well, you don’t want to talk about it. So let’s talk about the Internet stake.”
Beck: “No, no, no. Norman --”
Solomon: “Let’s talk about the Internet stake that the owners of CNN have. Huge profits to be made or lost by the parent company of CNN depending on what happens in Washington in terms of Internet regulation.”
Beck: “Norman, let me tell you something.”
Solomon: “That should be acknowledged, don’t you think?”
Beck: “Absolutely. And if it was on this program, it would be acknowledged.
“I thank you very much for your time.
“That just goes to show you, you’ve got to beware of everybody who you’re getting your news from. Wouldn’t it be nice if once in a while somebody came on and said, you know, I don’t really have an agenda except the truth? It’s my truth. If you don’t like it, you should go someplace else.”
During the back-and-forth, I’d understated the present-day role of Chevron as a funder of key news programming on PBS. Actually the Chevron Corporation, which signed on as an underwriter of “Washington Week” last year, no longer helps pay the piper there -- but the massive energy firm does currently funnel big bucks to the most influential show on PBS, the nightly “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
The corporate funders of the “NewsHour” now include not only Chevron but also AT&T and Pacific Life. There must be dozens of journalistic reports on the program every week -- whether relevant to the business worlds of energy, communications or insurance -- that warrant, and lack, real-time disclosures while the news accounts are on the air. Meanwhile, over at “Washington Week,” the corporate cash now flows in from the huge military contractor Boeing and the National Mining Association.
And that’s just “public broadcasting.” On avowedly commercial networks, awash in corporate ownership interests and advertising revenues, a thorough policy of disclosure in the course of news coverage would require that most of the airtime be devoted to shedding light on the media outlet conflicts-of-interest of the reporting in progress.
And what about Glenn Beck? The guy is another in a long line of demagogues riding a bull market for pseudo-populism. Brought to you by too many corporate interests to name.