Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

48. Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s: An Oral History, Jeff Kisseloff

July 22, 2009 2 comments

Very interesting read. This is more appropriately titled something like “Generation on Fire: Jewish Voices of Protest from the 1960s,” as at least ten out of fifteen people profiled are Jewish. For that matter, “Generation on Fire: White and Jewish Voices of Protest from the 1960s,” would fit, as only two (!) of the people he profiles are people of color. This was an excellent and interesting book, if only for bringing into light the sheer amount of shit people had to live through when fighting for civil rights (one interview subject recounts a man’s attempt to scoop his eye out of his sockets during a protest), but the demographics Kisseloff chose to focus on began to bother me somewhat as the book went on. It’s totally cool for him to focus on people who inspired him when he was growing up, and it makes sense that many of those people would be Jewish like himself, but it seems wrong to do an oral history of protest during the 1960s and feature only two people of color.

Likewise, Kisseloff’s treatment of the women who shaped an era is pretty iffy. In the introduction, women are clearly an afterthought: “by the time I interviewed them, you’d never know that many of them had been real tough guys (or women).” I’m pretty dubious of his choice to end one of three interviews with a woman by focusing on her role as a grandmother, rather than reformer. This isn’t because there is anything wrong or counter-revolutionary about being a mother, but the sort of neatness. Another woman’s interview ends with the following reflection:

There isn’t equal pay for equal work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be. We still don’t have guaranteed child care, but people are conscious of it. There’s still inequality in terms of wealth, but there’s a larger sense of self-worth and self-respect in terms of what we can be. It’s a totally changed world. 182

Which, I’m sorry, is just depressing as shit.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting read and now I’m searching my library databases for more oral histories.

Page count: 269
Page total: 21,151

EDIT: Jeff Kisseloff was kind enough to comment here and inform me that my numbers were off– only six out of the fifteen people he profiled are Jewish, so my suggested title amendment is of course (even more) unnecessary. See the comments for his thoughts.


28. “The Reader”, Bernhard Schlink

March 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I pretty much live under a pop culture rock most of the time, so I didn’t know anything about the movie adaptation of this book, which allowed me to approach it fresh. The first part was pretty boring (there are only so many ways to say “they read, took, a bath, and had sex, even though she’s kind of awful”), but it was at least quick. The second and third parts were much more interesting. The entire book took only a few hours to read.

This is (the culture would like us to believe) tangential to the book, but I’m always concerned that people aren’t more concerned about portrayals of sexual abuse of young people by women. She was forty-something, he was fifteen. Say whatever else you will, their power is not equally distributed. We don’t accept without comment even literary portrayals of a man and a child. The lack of comment on this sort of abuse bothers me. In the end, there was a condemnation of their relationship, but still no analysis of their age difference in monumentally messing him up.

Content-wise, I thought the question the narrator poses on page 169 (“How could those who had committed Nazi crimes or watched them happen or looked away while they were happening or tolerated the criminals among them after 1945 or even accepted them– how could they have anything to say to their children?”) was an important one. The narrator explores the hatred he and his peers had for their parents– even when their parents didn’t commit any objective wrong-doing. They got off on accusing their parents of crimes of the above sort because it was their way of disavowing themselves of the Nazi’s crimes (just as looking away or tolerating or accepting was the Nazi’s contemporaries way of doing the same). On 171, the narrator reflects on the fact that his family didn’t actually do anything wrong, and thus he couldn’t hate them effectively. Instead, the pain he goes through because of the love he feels for Hanna, who did do something wrong, was “the fate of his generation.” His only regret is that he experienced his pain long after his peers had. “It would have been good for me to be able to feel back then that I was apart of my generation,” he reflects.

As a queer Jewish person, I am interested in justice for the members of my cultural and symbolic (though, thankfully, not genealogical) family. As a person who has taken a damn survey course that discussed World Wars I and II, I am terrified by the scapegoating of Germans that still persists; it didn’t go so well the first time around. I don’t think that we find the answer in pointing at people and groups and trying to hold them guilty. We were all culpable. We continue to be culpable because we continue to exist in a culture of violent hatred of the Other. It is the great shame of an entire world that we could witness the murder of millions of people and continue to wage more of the same wars, and continue to look away from those wars for as long as possible.

Page count: 218
Page total: 14,925

22. “Slaughter-House Five”, Kurt Vonnegut

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

I really love this book though, as with anything by Kurt Vonnegut, you end up sounding like an idiot when you try to explain to people why you are clutching it to your bosom. “Well, it’s a fictional account of Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II when he was a prisoner of war. He was in Dresden when it was firebombed and was one of very few people to make it out alive. [They nod empathetically.] So, Vonnegut decides to write about his experiences in the war and focuses on a soldier he knew, Billy Pilgrim, who hascomeunstuckintime and keepsexperiencinglifeeventsoutoforder and forawhilethere,heisanexhibitinanalienzoo. And there is this lovely phrase the Vonnegut uses whenever the talks about someone dying. It’s just ‘so it goes’, because theTramfaldorianscanseeintothefourthdimension and believe that when a person is dead, they are merely in a bad state right then, but are okay in many other moments.”

Oh Vonnegut. You can make a fool out of me any day.

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