Sunday, June 29, 2008

Whither Anglicanism?

From this just-posted article on the Times website:

Anglican conservatives, frustrated by the continuing stalemate over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, declared on Sunday that they would defy the church’s historic lines of authority and create a new power bloc within the church led by a council of predominantly African archbishops.

The announcement came at the close of an unprecedented week-long meeting of Anglican conservatives in Jerusalem, who contend that they represent a majority of the 77 million members of the Anglican Communion.

They depicted their efforts as the culmination of an anti-colonial struggle against the church’s seat of power in Great Britain, whose missionaries first brought Anglican Christianity to the developing world.

The conservatives say many of the descendants of those Anglican missionaries in Britain and North America are now following what they call a “false gospel” that allows a malleable, liberal interpretation of Scripture.

The article suggests that the liberal response is that this is the same-old, same-old. Perhaps it is. But I find it a fascinating manipulation of third-world nationalism, a liberating ethos, to support a movement that is all about restriction.

Standardizing labels

I hope that I'm not the only who thinks that our blog is getting better and better everyday. In honor of this awesome blog (of interest not only to ourselves but also to others), I'd suggest that we standardize our labels more so that they are easier to look up - for example: history, politics, religion, art & literature, entertainment, etc. This is truly becoming a journal!

The Disadvantages of Elite Education

Apologies for the flurry of posts.  This is what happens when you don't have internet 24-7.  You've got to save it all up on your hard drive and send it out to cyberspace all in one go.

But I wanted to flag this article by Yale prof William Deresciewicz about the disadvantages of elite education.  Nothing particularly new here, but it's a well-thought out piece on the ways in which elite education entrenches class divisions and actually forecloses possibilities for those within its ranks.  It's nice to see an article about this in the American Scholar, of all places.  I may have something to say in a bit about the disadvantages of an elite law education.  We'll see.

Code Switching and Authenticity

A good ninety-nine percent of the time - and more, perhaps, as my older relatives pass out of my life - I speak unaccented American English.  Nevermind that I don't differentiate pin and pen, Aaron and Erin, Ben and bin, when people guess, they say perhaps I'm from Vermont, and they never, ever, say Texas.

But then there's that one percent, when I'm speaking to my grandparents, or my cousins in Georgia, or when African American speech flips a switch in my head and suddenly I find myself responding with a Southern "yes, ma'am."  Linguists, I believe, call this code switching.  It's not a particularly remarkable phenomenon, but it comes with pretty good shock value.  It's always fun to see the look on a northeasterner's face when they hear you talk to your Southern grandpa for the first time.

But here's the thing.  I've never really had a southern accent or even a Texas accent.  I do remember training myself not to say y'all sometime in high school, but it's not as though I grew up with a drawl that I learned to conceal when I went north for college.

So, when I call the elderly sister of a prison I'm working with down here in Alabama, and I automatically drop into the slow, syrupy intonations of my mother's family, what am I doing?  I'm not faking it, exactly, and it's not as though I make a decision that this person ought to be addressed in a southern accent.  But it's not entirely unconscious either.  In my mind, the word "drop" describes what I do, I just let my voice fall into a different register, one that's higher and sweeter and lazier of pronunciation.  When it comes as a response to someone else's accent, it's more automatic.  But when I initiate the code switch myself, there's clearly been some sort of assessment - that my client's sister will be more receptive to a gentle southern accent, say, or that the librarian at the Alabama archives might just be suspicious of Yankees.

I find my code switching is more pronounced on the phone, perhaps because all of our vocal manners are.  My fellow interns poke fun at the way I pull out my accent, and they make me feel as though there's something suspicious and inauthentic about my code switching.  As though I were trading on my southern heritage, which, of course, I am.  Unaccented English sticks out in Montgomery; it labels you as a foreigner and possibly a Yank, and it's nice to be able to change registers and blend in.  Just as it's nice not have to ask what hush puppies are or who Jefferson Davis is.

Still, it bothers me that I can't determine what I'm entitled to call mine.  That sugary accent that somehow I inherited but never fully possessed - is that mine?  And the cultural trappings I know so well, but never participated in?  Do we still get to own the things we disavow?

The Blessed Sameness of Barnes & Noble

I've been living in Montgomery, Alabama, for just about a month now.  Montgomery's quite a nice little Southern city.  There's the AA minor league baseball team - the Montgomery Biscuits (yes, really, the Biscuits) - and the Shakespeare festival I haven't been to yet and a few pockets of sophistication nestled in among the meat-and-threes and the Confederate memorials and the shocking display on George Wallace in the state archives. 

Still, aside from my two-year stint in Moscow, this is the first time in my life I've lived in a city where you can't have the New York Times delivered to your doorstep.  After a month, the novelty of returning to the world of grits, bibles, and flying roaches was beginning to wear off.  This week was hot, the Alabama criminal justice system is depressing, and federalism was getting me down.  I needed a shot of cosmopolitanism.  So I went to Barnes & Noble.

Oh, I know I'm supposed to lament the advent of stores like Barnes & Noble.  Displacing the local bookstore, bulldozing regional variation, imposing that nowhereland retail chain sameness in town after American town.  You're all good liberals; you know the rant.

But here's the secret.  Today, I love Barnes & Noble.  Today, that sameness - that reliable green lettering, those wooden shelves so predictably stocked - is no less than a blessing.  Is like central air on a muggy afternoon.  Is restorative.  Is comforting.  Is the sameness not of blight, but of cosmopolitan promise.  And is definitely the only place in Montgomery that sells vegetarian cookbooks.

I bought: Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers: Fresh Ideas for the Weeknight Table; The Ten Year Nap, a new novel by Meg Wolitzer I discovered while browsing the Atlantic Monthly in the periodical aisle; 2007 Best American Short Stories, edited, somewhat alarmingly, by Stephen King; and the collected poems of Philip Larken.  It was a beautiful splurge.  I feel renewed and ready to do battle with habeas corpus law (and Alabama roaches) once again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Collective Guilt?

I want to reflect on the honest and revealing documentary *Traces of the Trade* by Katrina Browne et al, which was shown last night on Chicago PBS. But before I go into this film, which follows members of an old, privileged white American family of New England stock as they explore their ancestral complicity in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, I would like to cite Hannah Arendt in 1968 on the question of collective responsibility:

"There is such a thing as responsibility for things one has not done; one can be held liable for them. But there is no such thing as being or feeling guilty for things that happened without oneself actively participating in them. This is an important point, worth making loudly and clearly at a moment when so many good white liberals confess to guilt feelings with respect to the Negro question. I do not know how many precedents there are in history for such misplaced feelings, but I do know that in postwar Germany, where similar problems arose with respect to what had been done by the Hitler regime to Jews, the cry 'We are all guilty' that at first hearing sounded so very noble and tempting has actually only served to exculpate to a considerable degree those who actually were guilty. Where all are guilty, nobody is. Guilt, unlike responsibility, always singles out; it is strictly personal. It refers to an act, not to intentions or potentialities. It is only in a metaphorical sense that we can say we guilty for the sins of our fathers or our people or mankind, in short, for deeds we have not done, although the course of events may well make us pay for them. And since sentiments of guilt, mens rea or bad conscience, the awareness of wrong doing, play such an important role in our legal and moral judgment, it may be wise to refrain from such metaphorical statements which, when taken literally, can only lead into a phony sentimentality in which all real issues are obscured."

Keeping in mind Arendt's unsentimental suspicion of the notion of collective guilt (which we know is motivated by her fiercely impersonal sense of justice), I wonder what it was that made it existentially important to this young woman Katrina Browne to come to terms with her ancestors, the DeWolfs, the most prominent and wealthiest slave traders in the United States. Browne's desire to confront her ancestor's complicity in a morally degrading enterprise led her to gather her own relatives, essentially privileged white Episcopalians, to trace the history of the slave trade together. They go as far as traveling to Ghana and Cuba to interview scholars of the history of slave trade, to visit sites of the slave market and plantations. Meanwhile, everything goes to make apparent that this journey was ultimately about confronting what it means to be not only white but in the white American elite. This becomes pointed when the whites in question felt - many for the first time in their lives - unwanted and snubbed when participating in a festival in Ghana, making them viscerally feel their race.

What is striking in this documentary for me is the extent to which the whites want to be loved and forgiven by those whom they believe to have oppressed. This is far from being a universal phenomenon since the Baba Chinese, for example, to whom I partially belong, do not seem particularly eager to be loved by the indigenous Javanese, at whose cost they had been able to prosper under the Dutch colonial regime, and toward whom they maintain till this day an unapologetic sense of superiority. (In fact, while most educated Europeans today feel embarrassed about colonialism, the Baba Chinese who have integrated and inter-married seamlessly into the Dutch society have yet to internalized this aspect of the European historical consciousness broadly speaking.)

It is probably obvious to us all that the notion of collective guilt is a particularly white phenomenon, be it on the part of post-war Germans (regarding the European Jews) or the white Americans (regarding the descendants of the African slaves). Equally obvious is the fact that the urgency to have a clear moral conscience regarding the wrongs of the world is a distinctly Hebraic-Christian heritage. At the same time, I would hesitate before seeing the sentiments and behavior of Katrina Browne and her folks as simply "Christian."

At one point during their journey, having been trapped in a tourist package modeled after "the life of the slaves" on the vestiges of a sugarcane plantation in Cuba, one of the family members breaks down. The gray-haired woman explodes in anger and frustration, saying, "Damn it, I need more communication among us about this experience, we have gone on this trip, and yet we are still being our Protestant selves, each to our own..." I think it was the most important moment of truth in this documentary. The woman is right to point out that the sense of the privacy of the individual soul is Protestant, and I would go further by pointing out that the entire journey, which was haunted by the wish to have the sins of the ancestors expiated by the victims, is distinctly Protestant. In other words, what is distinctive about this case of collective guilt is that those who saw themselves as "guilty" perceive the agents of forgiveness to be those whom they perceive as victims.

I do not question Katrina Browne when she says at one point in the film that the whites ought to ask for forgiveness, but I completely disagree with her and her family's conception of the blacks as the sole agents of forgiveness. In fact, I found mildly distasteful the moment when the family turned to their only African-American companion, Juanita Brown, in order to solicit approval from her, as if she alone could "forgive" the whites on behalf of all the black Americans that have ever lived. Brown is consequently put into the embarrassing role of consoling the historical oppressors, as it were, coerced emotionally to generate the absurdly sentimental and meaningless phrase: “To me, you are just a good person now…”

The absurdity of this situation, I think, can be avoided if we try to think beyond the Protestant mentality that seems to have entrenched Katrina Browne and her folks. This is completely thinkable especially because these folks belong to the American Episcopal church, which contains both Catholic and Protestant elements. We know that Catholic tradition valorizes confession of sins in a way that the Protestant churches do not, and it is crucial that it is to a priest that one confesses and not to those we have sinned against. In the Anglican and Episcopalian liturgy, one confesses to a “Most merciful God” that “we have sinned against thee/in thought, word, and deed,/by what we have done,/and by what we have left undone.” That is to say, it might be a trespass against our neighbors, but it is a sin against God. From this we can conclude that only God – namely a third, impersonal presence, a divine justice that goes beyond the human – can “have mercy/upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins.” The priest can perform this act of forgiveness in his office, but not as a person, whence the obligatory phrase, “Please pray for me, a sinner also” at the end of confession.

There is perhaps nothing that reveals the reason for this triangular situation “wrongdoer-wronged-God” than the kind of trespasses that we deal with in Traces of the Trade, namely, a wrongness whose magnitude is so that it that cannot be absolved simply by an apology. An apology on an institutional level (by the church, by a government) serves to make public a responsibility toward certain disenfranchised groups, but it cannot expiate the offenses of the wrongdoers. The danger of the Protestant mentality is its overemphasis on the individual conscience, which, in this instance, clearly reveals its impotence and helplessness when dealing with a moral transgression not against one person, one family, one country, but a whole class of people and their descendants over generations. I suspect that this is the reason for which Katrina Browne, to her credit, returns to the Episcopal church not only to have a public – which, in Arendtian terms, means visible, exposed, and therefore political – space in which she can seek recognition for white responsibility, but also as the an authentic institution in white American culture that can represent an impersonal, supra-human justice, to whom human beings caught in a historical tragedy can, without the risk of sentimentality, ask to “have mercy on us.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Plasticity, or, is the Medium the Message?

This article from the Atlantic asks how Google and the Internet are actively rewiring the way humans process information. It is definitely worth reading, and I apologize for the irony of posting it to a blog.

Is there some kind of Internet backlash afoot? This week NPR is devoting stories to the problems caused by email, last week a consortium of computer and software companies formed to discuss the same issue, and I've heard and read about declaring "email bankruptcy" a lot recently. David Brooks' writes today on Tiger Woods' mental discipline, and how this makes him such an unusual figure in today's world of incessant distractions, largely produced by media.

Do you feel that technology is altering your abilities to think?

There is a difference between knowing and thinking. Google might give us greater knowledge, but might it inhibit the processing of knowledge, the thinking part of the equation?

I've decided to ban laptops from my classes next year . . . even if the students protest. As Jeremy recently pointed out, it's better to discuss the issue at hand all the way through rather than to derail the conversation to allow someone to look up a disease, a medication, or whatever, on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Vertigo!

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an interesting article about Alfred Hitchcock's film, Vertigo. It's written by David Sterritt, a film critic and professor at Columbia. Vertigo was released to mixed (if not downright negative) reviews in 1958, but the film eventually became a critical darling. I saw it first in college, and my previous Hitchcock experiences had involved his television show (now available on NBC's website), and North By Northwest, which is more of a jaunty romp, a parody of a Hitchcock film, than classic Hitchcock.

Sterritt comments that the reviewers thought the movie was too farfetched; I remember thinking that this was a part of its allure. It was so odd: a detective story turned into a ghost story turned into a movie about obsession and deceit. I think Vertigo, and particularly the choice to cast James Stewart in the role of stalker/obsessor, resonates with David Lynch's Twin Peaks (also available for online streaming!). Something isn't quite right, and whatever that element is (the acting, the writing, the cinematography), it makes the movie feel slightly off kilter. This serves the purpose of making the viewer very much aware of the artifice, as might be the case in an avant-garde film, but since Hitchcock is a storyteller director, we are also immersed in the suspenseful plot. A delicate balance that few can pull off with any success.

I liked David Sterritt's final thoughts, and I excerpt them here:

To my mind, three aspects of Vertigo stand out above all others. One is its ingenuity in probing the nature of cinema itself. As perceptive critics have observed, Scottie is a surrogate for Hitchcock, transforming Judy into the fantasy character of his dreams. When her makeover into Madeleine is almost complete and Scottie sends her out to fix one final detail, he's like a movie director ordering a retake so the shot will be precisely as he envisioned it. Hitchcock's implicit commentary on his profession isn't very flattering, moreover. Scottie is a control freak just like him, bending every contingency to the demands of his own will.

Related to this is the film's exploration of how looking and seeing collude with fantasy and desire to shape our conceptions of the world. Scottie spends much of the film gazing at the woman who enthralls him, yet he remains pathetically ignorant of everything about her until a chance revelation makes his reveries come crashing down. Movies appeal directly to our sense of sight, so Hitchcock was going boldly against the grain by taking such a relentlessly ironic view of vision's role in shaping — and misshaping — human experience.

Most remarkable of all is this suspense picture's radical approach to suspense. Scottie ends the first scene dangling from a drainpipe high above the streets, and he begins the second scene in his friend Midge's comfortable apartment. How did he get from the drainpipe to the easy chair? We never find out, which means that, metaphorically, Scottie is in suspense throughout the rest of the story — suspended between Madeleine and Judy, desire and despair, reality and fantasy, living and dying. In the final shot, he's again gazing down at a lifeless body: the corpse of Judy, now unveiled as the duplicitous lover who caught him in a web of murder and deceit.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Writing in a Universal Language

Joyce's post on the problems with artistic margins and the benefits of artistic universals reminded me of a recent article about the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe in the New Yorker: "After Empire" by Ruth Franklin. An excerpt:

By deploying stock English phrases in unfamiliar ways, Achebe expresses his characters’ estrangement from that language. The phrases that Ezeulu uses—“be my eyes,” “bring home my share”—have no exact equivalents in Achebe’s “translation.” And how great the gap between “my spirit tells me” and “I have a hunch”! In the same essay, Achebe writes that carrying the full weight of African experience requires “a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.” Or, as he later put it, “Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English for we intend to do unheard of things with it.”

Achebe’s views on English were not yet widely accepted. At a conference on African literature held in Uganda in 1962, attended by emerging figures such as the Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka and the Kenyan novelist James Ngugi, the writers tried and failed to define “African literature,” unable to decide whether it should be characterized by the nationalities of the writers or by its subject matter. Afterward, the critic Obi Wali published an article claiming that African literature had come to a “dead end,” which could be reopened only when “these writers and their western midwives accept the fact that true African literature must be written in African languages.” Ngugi came to agree: he wrote four novels in English, but in the nineteen-seventies he adopted his Gikuyu name of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and vowed to write only in Gikuyu, his native language, viewing English as a means of “spiritual subjugation.”

At the conference, Achebe read the manuscript of Ngugi’s first novel, “Weep Not, Child,” which he recommended to Heinemann for publication. The publisher soon asked him to sign on as general editor of its African Writers Series, a post he held, without pay, for ten years. Among the writers whose novels were published during his tenure were Flora Nwapa, John Munonye, and Ayi Kwei Armah—all of whom became important figures in the emerging African literature. Heinemann’s Alan Hill later said that the “fantastic sales” of Achebe’s books had supported the series. But the appeal of English was not purely commercial. A great novel, Achebe later argued, “alters the situation in the world.” Igbo, Gikuyu, or Fante could not claim a global influence; English could.

Avant-Garde, Marginalization, and the Stories of the World

I just returned exhausted from a conference in Gent, Belgium, which was dedicated to avant-garde and modernism studies. This year, the topic of the conference is "Europa! Europa?" and aimed to interrogate the meaning of "Europe" within the avant-garde movements. From my point of view, the question nearly needs no discussion: the avant-garde has always been about a critique of European/western civilization, and that Dada disregarded nationalities, Surrealism disregarded skin color. The avant-garde, as I say over and over again to others, was the moment when blacks, whites and others united against colonialism, bourgeois arrogance, and spiritual alienation under industrial capitalism. It was the last time in the western world where art and poetry could and did provide a sense of grandeur and nourished the courage for protest for a generation of men and women living under very dark times. Some members of the avant-garde made political mistakes, some perished in the wars, some in the concentration camps, some did themselves in. Those who survived, however, could testify to the fact that this artistic and intellectual elite did dismantle and renew language and symbolic forms in the west in such a way that they allow us to articulate our affective lives intelligently in modernity. Love and friendship, work and imagination, made all this possible.

Part of my exhaustion and sense of disappointment, therefore, results from the fact that this grandeur, this love for the world (as opposed to the love for "Europe") that is in my mind central to the avant-garde was barely brought out during the conference. Instead, it became the opportunity for scholars who work on the so-called minor cultures and languages (Hungarian, Bulgarian, Slovenia, etc) to re-claim their fair share of the pie - the pie being "modernism and avant-garde studies." One after another, I heard accounts by otherwise competent and committed scholars about a forgotten Lithuanian avant-garde figure, about the marginalization of Polish Cubism in the history of modern art, so on and so forth.

I sat through these conference papers patiently, though I was much perplexed. If I were to articulate my perplexity in the form of a question, it would be the following: If the minor cultures are now given microphones so that they, too, get to tell their previously marginalized stories, why is it that their stories all sound the same, since they all assume the position of marginalization itself as the main crux? In other words, what on the surface promises to open up a history to a field of heterogeneities (the opening up of the history of modernism to "alternative" stories) ends up reinforcing homogeneity, namely, the uniformly marginal status of the cultures of Central and Eastern Europe. The differences between the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Poles and the Bulgarians cede into the background as the "larger picture" surfaces: the large picture of "marginalized avant-gardes" and thereby marginalized peoples.

It was not until a panel of American scholars came on to talk about Czech, Hungarian and Slovenian contemporary art that I realized where the problem seems to be located. All three of the presentations by American speakers focused on artistic practices whose goal is to engage with the propaganda of the Soviet era or life under totalitarianism. The art forms were therefore discussed exclusively in relation to their content: how a Slovenian collective reproduces totalitarian rhetoric and techniques as parody; how Czech video artists produced a propaganda satirizing recent jouissance of consumerism in contrast to material depravity under communism; how examples of Hungarian installation art "failed" because they are supported by the right-wing government; so on and so forth. I found myself less concerned with the intellectual rigor of the presentations than with what seems to me a glaring truth: the west, namely that part of the world that did not experience totalitarianism during the 20th century and developed into the late-capitalist economies of today, continues to see the countries of the former Soviet bloc in terms of their experience under communism. In short, what is most important about the Russians, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Slovenians and so forth from the point of view of the west is their humiliating and humiliated experience under Stalinism. What would these hip, young American intellectuals think, if I were to tell them that that Eastern Europe for me and my childhood friends in Taiwan meant Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chopin, Dvorak and Bartok? Could they understand that we, at the age of 10 or 11, read War and Peace tirelessly not because it was Russian and exotic, but because it was a great epic that swept our youthful souls away, for the sake of which "Twuo-Er-Si-Tai" (how we translate "Tolstoy" phonetically into Chinese mandarin) was to remain our teenage idol?

I was deeply affected by this experience at the Ghent conference precisely because it is not an issue that touches the central and Eastern Europeans alone. Gale recently posted a conversation about race in the United States, where the same scenario is reproduced. To a great extent, the whites and the blacks essentially work together unconsciously to reinforce the notion that the most important component in black American identity is the humiliating experience of slavery and segregation. So long as those on the "guilty" side continue to apologize neurotically for institutional racism, colonialism, global capitalism over and over in order to save their own souls, the "victims" will remain victims in body and spirit. Conversely, so long as the "victims" continue to reinforce the fact that they had been marginalized, forgotten and oppressed, the "guilty" ones shall more and more fetishize the victims and "their stories," which, as Gale implies, can only be stories of not so much suffering but of humiliation and perversion. There will be a kind of endless jouissance of collective sadomasochism: the "master" gets off on being flagellated by the "slave," meanwhile, he remains the master and the slave remains the slave. Admittedly, it is difficult recognize suffering and simultaneously resist the temptation to reduce the people to their predicament. I myself have made the same slip over and over again, and recently I had to be reminded by my friend Ronen that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are reducible to their condition under the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What are the means, then, to resist our compulsive bad conscience (Nietzsche, after all, must be credited for recognizing it as a form of post-Christian mediocrity)?

While I was listening to these American scholars on art about Soviet life, a vivid episode during my undergraduate career suddenly came to me. I went out of curiosity to an enormous conference in the Ryan auditorium, put together by scholars from the department of Slavic languages and literature at Northwestern in collaboration with all the most important poets in central and eastern Europe. My motivation for going was not very profound: I was taking a modern poetry seminar with the Russian poet Ilya Kutik, and I liked Klebnikov and Mayakovsky. The poets at the conference included many Russians and Poles, but many Balkan poets also participated - most importantly, however, the entire auditorium was packed with the Slavic communities in Chicago-land. It was the first time in my life to see poetry playing such a central role in the lives of the common people, people who did not necessarily consider themselves intellectuals. When the poets began to recite, I began to understand why. The poets often recited long poems by heart; they barely looked at their papers. Never have I seen such rich yet natural idioms performed with such energy: at times, they whistled, sighed, shouted. I don't know any Slavic language, but all of the sublime fury of Mayakovsky seems to have made sense to me in one moment. As an American, I also had the impression of being re-taught Walt Whitman, whose free verse I did not understand until I understood it through the eyes of the central and eastern European avant-gardes. Even more moving was the overwhelming response of the audience - people clapped, laughed, cried - at the sight of which I said to myself that the Slavic peoples, who often intimidate me with their dry directness and mystify me with what seems to me an infinite capacity for suffering, are have poetry in their fibers, making it all the more unacceptable that such deeply creative and spiritual communities should have had to suffer the "moral extermination" of Stalinism.

Obviously, it would have been naive of me to simply reiterate the Romantic doctrine that art and poetry constitute the space of universality, as if there were no linguistic differences, differences in religious traditions and symbolic forms that separate one community from another. Nevertheless, insofar as poetry allows a language to become vehicles of people's emotions and experiences, it can be said to be the bridge between the individual's own sufferings and a world of open-ness. Art therefore transforms the particular into the universal, allowing the story of Hungarians, for example, to be simultaneously the story of the rest of us. It seems to me that the stories of particular peoples must be told in such a way that they become part of the stories of the world. Only then can we be genuinely prepared to listen to the "stories" of others without hearing the story that we actually want to hear, namely the story about ourselves. Then, one day, we might hope that the number of western scholars with a morbid fascination for Maoist China or Stalinist Russia would gradually diminish, and that we can all read Crime and Punishment and listen to Bartok together as the stories and songs about the world and of the world.