Archive for March, 2010

A book and a birthday

This is a random story. I really like books. You know Walter Benjamin, in one of his essays he writes on unpacking his library. The essay is about not his book collection as such, but about the very process and meaning behind collecting books, and he goes on and on about it. At first, I reacted to it as bourgeois sentimentality, and, soon enough, I realized I was emulating it. Okay, we can all have our vices. The problem is that almost always, whenever I walk into a used bookstore, I can’t walk out without having purchased something; and if it is older, the better. Now this isn’t anything as fancy as what Benjamin’s going after (or, more aptly, anything like what Benjamin’s going after) but I can give you a bit of an idea of what my kind of sentimentality involves.

Over the winter, I was writing a paper on states — that is, the state, what it is, why it is, etc. (and, of course, from a Marxist perspective). I figure the paper would’ve been a really good and sound basis for further studies in political science but that the paper was actually a paper about writing a paper about the state — a “bibliographic essay.” One of the books that was very important in writing this paper was The State and Political Theory, by Martin Carnoy. It was published in 1984 and synthesized many of the Marxist debates on the state up until then (and, in fact, since then the debate has perhaps not gone very far, in many ways). I had to sign it out from one of the college libraries at the University of Toronto because, I think, the Robarts copy is missing (or stolen, it’s worth stealing).

In Markham not too far from where I live, there is a used bookstore. The problem with this one, unlike BMV or any of the other used bookstores downtown, is that stock turnover is really low, and new (old) things take a long time to arrive and be put on display. And, since I spend so many Fridays there, this is one of those rare used bookstores from which I can often walk out without having purchased anything.

But, one Friday, I stumbled upon Carnoy’s book in fine paperback. With the exception of a little bit of hard-to-notice highlighting in the front, the book was spotless. Now, what’s interesting is that what seems to be the original receipt was still in the book. It is a receipt for two texts, actually — one cost $5.95, the other $13.30. I can’t imagine this book costing $5.95, even back in the 1980s (although, the used price was $6.00), so probably it was purchased for $13.30. If, indeed, it is in fact the original receipt. But I’d like to think that it is because the date on the top says “02-12-85”. This, of course, can mean one of two things: February 12, 1985, or December 2, 1985.

For no reason other than sheer sentimentality, which is where we began, I’d like to think it’s the latter — because that’s my birthday.

Comments (2) »


بول، کِہ لب آزاد ہیں تیرے
بول، زباں اب تک تیری ہے
تیرا ستواں جسم ہے تیرا
بول کہ جاں اب تک تیری ہے
دیکھ کہ آہن گر کی دُکاں میں
تُند ہیں شُعلے سُرخ ہے آہن
کُھلنے لگے قُفلوں کے دہانے
پھیلا ہر اِک زنجیر کا دامن
بول، یہ تھوڑا وقت بہُت ہے
جِسم و زباں کی موت سے پہلے
بول کہ سچ زِندہ ہے اب تک
بول، جو کچھ کہنا ہے کہہ لے!

فیض احمد فیض

bol, ke lab aazad haiN tere
bol, zabaaN ab tak teri hai
tera sutwaaN jism hai tera
bol ke jaaN ab tak teri hai
dekh ke aahangar ki dukaaN meiN
tund haiN sholay, surKh hai aahan
khulnay lagay qufloN ke dahaane
phela har ek zanjeer ka daaman
bol, yeh thoRa waqt buhut hai
jism-o zabaaN ki maut se pehle
bol ke such zinda hai ab tak
bol, jo kuch kehna hai keh le!

V.G. Kiernan’s poetic translation:
Speak, for your two lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still your own;
This straight body still is yours’
Speak, your life is still your own.

See how in the blacksmith’s forge
Flames leap high and steel glows red,
Padlocks open wide their jaws,
Every chain’s embrace outspread!

Time enough is this brief hour
Until body and tongue lie dead;
Speak, for truth is living yet–
Speak whatever must be said.

V.G. Kiernan’s literal translation:
Speak, for your lips are free;
Speak, your tongue is still yours,
Your upright body is yours’
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flames are hot, the iron is red,
Mouths of locks have begun to open,
Each chain’s skirt has spread wide.
Speak, this little time is plenty
Before the death of body and tongue;
Speak, for truth is still alive–
Speak, say whatever is to be said.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

I’ve read and heard this one a few times, and even in Faiz’s own voice (frankly, he isn’t no Habib Jalib as far as this is concerned). But it wasn’t until today that I heard Tina Sani’s rendition and it really hit me, pretty deep. (Of course, Z sent me this file a long time ago and in my usual indolence I didn’t listen to it until now. My bad.)

Sani’s version on YouTube:

Skirt, or daaman, doesn’t have the gendered implication it would in English. The word, depending on the context, has one too many meanings. Another way to translate the line is to imply that the chains are actually begging. But Kiernan was down with Faiz and the latter looked over the translation. Note, also, the poetic translation, “Every chain’s embrace outspread!”

No comment »

ONDP and Israeli apartheid

I abandoned social democracy a few years ago, but I often find myself wishing that social democrats could at least be proper social democrats. That means focusing more or less on issues that affect the working class, pushing for anti-neoliberal policies (rather than embracing them), fighting racism and the criminalization of the poor, and so on. It might also involve some kind of capacity for enlightened foreign policy engagement (insofar as that goes, for any Western capitalist state — although the examples of Scandinavian social democracies are not particularly heinous). So here I’m going to try and sort out some of my thought on the NDP and its particular (and peculiar) brand of social democracy, and see what folks have to say. I’ll start with the most recent incident, concerning the Ontario NDP.

On Israeli apartheid and the ONDP

When some of us call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions we are accused of being violators of the sacred principle of academic freedom. Yet, when the legislature of Ontario passes a motion condemning the use of the term apartheid when referring to Israel — and clearly, this is an attack on Israeli Apartheid Week that occurs on campuses around the world — there is little discussion on it. The motivation of the motion itself is remarkable in attempting to circumvent debate, if only by suggesting that debate does not lend itself to debate, and therefore is not conducive to the debate that one should be having about what the correct thing to debate is, and we should not have certain debates lest we debate the improper debates and lose sight of the debate.

University presidents have already smugly released their statements about the necessity of tolerating controversial discussions in advance of IAW, and so on, and so will in all likelihood not respond directly to this absurd motion — unlike when they responded directly to the question of academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Will university presidents in Ontario respond by issuing strong statements that they are not lackeys and stooges of Ontario governments and will not stand for the censoring of Israeli Apartheid Week?

It’s not like one would expect better, but the NDP is another story.

News reports suggested that the motion was endorsed by all parties — i.e., unanimously. Featured quite prominently was NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo. Only 30 members (out of a 107-member legislature) were present and voting, but due to Di Novo’s comments, the ONDP is stuck with this vile attempt at circumventing debate.

But wait, all is well. Don’t lose your faith in the ONDP. For Andrea Horwath, the leader of the ONDP, has released an open letter in which she notes quite forcefully that “[s]ingling out activists or shutting down debate, on this or any other matter, is not constructive and is entirely unhelpful.”

I would provide a source, except that I cannot find a direct source. It’s not on the ONDP web site. It’s not on Andrea Horwath’s web site. As of this writing, it’s nowhere on the Internet except buried somewhere on Rabble and a couple of blogs.

I don’t think this is enough. It’s one thing to have a prominent MPP spout some inane invective in legislature, that gets recorded in Hansard, that gets reported in the media, and it’s quite another to release a letter to activists or to those who e-mail Horwath saying “naw we didn’t mean it.” There appears to me to be something quite opportunistic about it — being everything to everyone. Who, except those who trawl this one left-wing web site and are on some listservs (note, I didn’t get the e-mail from any of the listservs I am on) would even know that the ONDP is against this idiotic motion?

It has real repercussions for activists at Ontario universities.

What’s more, it appears that the federal parliament is getting ready to entertain a similar motion. It’s unlikely that the federal NDP will let a similar debacle unfold, but there are plenty of other debacles it’s fine with — more on which, perhaps, later.

No comment »