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“Rain and Embers” by Ali Nuri— Poems of an Iraqi Refugee

Nuri, Ali. “Rain and Embers”, Ali Nuri, 2019.

Poems of an Iraqi Refugee

Amos Lassen

 “Ali Nuri was born to a Shi’a family in the southern marshlands of Iraq at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. As a persecuted religious sect, they were attacked by the tyrannical government under Saddam Hussein and fled across the desert to escape. He spent his childhood reeling from the trauma of being uprooted and forced to migrate. Ali survived four grueling years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before being granted asylum by the United States at the age of 7.” Like many others, Ali’s feelings of oppression and alienation  led him into writing. He shares with us his self-portrait and his thoughts about migration, trauma, abuse, racism, religion, philosophy, intimacy, love, loss, forgiveness, and redemption. I love that his poetry is raw and the fact that it is written in a learned language rather than a mother-tongue makes it all-the-more special.

We cannot help but feel his sense of alienation since Ali move from one oppression to another. Here is a look at an Iraqi refugee in post-9/11 America. Since it is so realistic, it is quite naturally heartbreaking. If you have ever wondered what immigrants to this country feel, you simply have to read this. Having experienced similar feelings when I left this country to live somewhere else for many years, I can tell you that you really never miss a homeland until you do not have one.

“I’ve got words
residing inside me
freely meandering
reshaping a wasteland
into the prospect
of treasured home again”

Home is not where you hang your hat but where your heart is (or wants to be). We are all too familiar with immigrants who have had their human rights taken from them as they leave one country and move to another. You really feel that here.

While this is Ali’s story, it is also the universal story about the desire to survive and about self-acceptance. Ali grabs us by promising to share his story but we are not quite ready for the depth to which he goes.

he tears into the reader, begging them to see him for only a brief moment, as he opens his mouth to express the words he had hidden deep within. It is something of an assault of the senses but I mean that positively. Ali wants to be treated like the human that he is. He does not ask for more than that but it is necessary that we hear about the traumas and the nitty-gritty of his life, if only to get to know him better. We all want a place that we can call home even if our homeland is torn from us by the ravages of war.

Ali’s words flow into a special kid of poetry, lines that ask why subliminally and they come from his heart and go into our hearts and mines. Even though this reads as the poetry of emotions, it hits us as the poetry of thought.

I chuckled and I wept as I read but more than all I was moved. I do not think that anyone can read this without being moved. We are angry at the way the administration is treating immigrants and after reading this that anger becomes rage. Dare we remain silent? We are all roamers looking for homes. Let’s all do so together.

“Anyone: A Novel” by Charles Soule— The Realistic Future

Soule, Charles. “Anyone: A Novel”,  Harper Perennial, 2019.

The Realistic Future

Amos Lassen

Charles Soule’s “Anyone: A Novel” takes us into a of technology in a realistic future. We meet a female scientist who creates “a technology that allows for the transfer of human consciousness between bodies, and the transformations this process wreaks upon the world.”

As she searches for a cure for Alzheimer’s, she finds herself mysteriously transported into her husband’s body and this occurrence, a mistake, changes her life forever.

We move ahead some twenty years where “flash” technology allows individuals the ability to transfer their consciousness into other bodies for specified periods, paid, registered and legal. Now one can “Be anyone with Anyone” the slogan of the company that now offers the ultimate out-of-body experience. Beyond the reach of the law and government regulators is a black market called the “darkshare”, where desperate “vessels” anonymously rent out their bodies, no questions asked for anything including sex, drugs, crime or even worse. 

Soule brings together today’s story of the discovery and development of the flash and the story of one woman’s crusade to put an end to the darkness it has caused in the world twenty-five years after its creation. This is speculative fiction that  takes us to a world where identity, morality, and technology collide— a vision of a future, we have never expected to see. We look at gender, power, and what it means to be human and this stays with us after we close the covers of the book. The same technology that can lets us cure the problems and woes of the world can take us into a world where selfishness and greed rule.

“YESTERDAY WAS A LIE”— Mensa Noir

“YESTERDAY WAS A LIE”

Mensa Noir

Amos Lassen

“Yesterday Was a Lie” is the story of a noir detective who is haunted by a broken love affair and want to fill a notebook with quantum physics formulae. He meets a blonde femme fatale — who is less a threat than a doppelganger, since the detective herself is a blonde. It takes place in a world where a cop snarls that he could never get into Eliot, where a cat is incidentally named Schrödinger, and where one hot babe picks up another with, “So are you into Surrealist art, or do you just come here for the fashion?”

The blonde who asks this question is a chanteuse named Singer (Chase Masterson) and the blonde answering is a tortured cop named Hoyle (Kipleigh Brown). This is a movie about ideas and emotions as well. Hoyle is trying to understand why she can’t get over a guy  and the answer, she learns, has something to do with Jung.

Writer-director James Kerwin gives us a love story that seems to be noir but doesn’t look like it. It is a pseudo-science fantasy thriller that mixes mathematics, time travel, and quantum physics. The reality of the film — the setting, cars, clothes — is an archetypal symbol for her journey through her unconscious as Hoyle envisions herself in her journey. Because of the plot it is really difficult to review this because whatever I say will give something away. Let’s just say that it more of an experience that a film.

THE TREVOR PROJECT TO HONOR CYBILL SHEPHERD & THE PWC CHARITABLE FOUNDATION AT TREVORLIVE LOS ANGELES


THE TREVOR PROJECT TO HONOR CYBILL SHEPHERD &
THE PWC CHARITABLE FOUNDATION AT TREVORLIVE LOS ANGELES

ZAZIE BEETZ & SASHEER ZAMATA TO CO-HOST;
GRACE VANDERWAAL TO PERFORM

Jane Lynch and EJ Johnson to Present at Annual Fundraising Gala
Supporting Youth in Crisis at The Beverly Hilton, Nov. 17

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 31, 2019) — The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, today announced Cybill Shepherd as the 2019 recipient of the “Champion Award,” which recognizes the outstanding support of an ally and their commitment to supporting The Trevor Project’s mission. The PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. will be the recipient of the “20/20 Visionary Award,” presented to corporations supporting LGBTQ inclusion around the world. Both will be honored at the TrevorLIVE LA fundraising gala, Nov. 17, at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.

Additionally, The Trevor Project taps Zazie Beetz (Joker) and Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live) as hosts; Jane Lynch and EJ Johnson as presenters; and Grace VanderWaal as performer. They join previously announced “Youth Innovator Award” honoree Hayley Kiyoko; a special appearance by YouTube personality, author, and activist Gigi Gorgeous; and a performance by Miss Shalae, the world’s top Beyoncé impersonator.

“Cybill Shepherd and the PwC Charitable Foundation consistently make a positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ people across the country, and we’re excited to honor their commitment to The Trevor Project and LGBTQ young people,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project. “With Zazie and Sasheer’s upbeat energy leading us through a moving night, we look forward to celebrating 21 years of life-saving work at TrevorLIVE Los Angeles.”

Shepherd is the Golden Globe-winning actress and long-time ally and activist of LGBTQ rights known for her role as Phyllis Kroll in the critically acclaimed Showtime lesbian drama “The L Word.” The show’s groundbreaking content exposed millions to multi-dimensional queer characters with colorful storylines, driving what is often seen as the first major representation of lesbians on mainstream television. Shepherd’s daughter, Clementine Ford, will continue her mother’s legacy as a star in the forthcoming sequel series “The L Word: Generation Q.”

“For many young people in crisis, the affirming work of The Trevor Project can mean the world. In my work as an entertainer and activist – and especially as a mother, I’ve seen the profound freedom that comes with giving someone permission to be themselves,” said Cybill Shepherd. “I’m incredibly humbled to accept the ‘Champion Award’ at TrevorLIVE LA; and will continue to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community as an ally fighting for a more inclusive place for the next generation.”

PwC Charitable Foundation, a public charity that invests in emerging solutions to society’s greatest challenges in education and humanitarianism; has a history of supporting underrepresented populations and underserved communities, including The Trevor Project and its life-saving work.

In 2016, a group of PwC employees started a crowdfunder to support The Trevor Project. As one of the most popular crowdfunders among employees, it received a $10,000 grant from the PwC Foundation, and the campaign raised employee awareness for The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth. Since then, the PwC Foundation has continued to support The Trevor Project and has invested in the organization’s mission to prevent suicide among LGBTQ young people.

“I was elected president of the PwC Foundation this month and could not be more proud of the organization’s support for The Trevor Project,” said Yolanda Seals-Coffield, president of the PwC Foundation, who will accept the ‘20/20 Visionary Award’ along with Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose & inclusion officer for PwC US. “The Trevor Project is the world’s largest organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ young people — an important mission that is aligned with the PwC Foundation’s values to support inclusiveness and belonging, especially among underserved groups.”

TrevorLIVE’s star-studded red carpet and awards ceremony will be live-streamed Nov. 17, at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT, on The Trevor Project’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, powered by Revry, the first queer global streaming network. Revry is the exclusive live-streaming partner and official streaming network of TrevorLIVE LA and New York.

The proud presenting sponsors of this year’s TrevorLIVE LA are the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch. In addition, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants serves as the official hotel partner; and AT&T is the official VIP Reception Sponsor.

For more information on TrevorLIVE LA, visit LA.TrevorLIVE.org. To download photos of the featured talent, click here.

About The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. The Trevor Project offers a suite of crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs, including TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat as well as a peer-to-peer social network support for LGBTQ young people under the age of 25, TrevorSpace. Trevor also offers an education program with resources for youth-serving adults and organizations, a legislative advocacy department fighting for pro-LGBTQ legislation and against anti-GBTQ rhetoric/policy positions, and conducts research to discover the most effective means to help young LGBTQ people in crisis and end suicide. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our TrevorLifeline crisis counselors are available 24/7/365 at 866.488.7386. www.TheTrevorProject.org

TrevorLIVE is the signature annual fundraising event of The Trevor Project.This annual event brings together top entertainers and corporate leaders to support the organization’s life-saving initiatives. Learn more about TrevorLIVE at http://la.trevorlive.org.

“Alexander von Humboldt: How the Most Famous Scientist of the Romantic Age Found the Soul of Nature” by Maren Meinhardt— An Exceptional Life in an Exceptional Time

Meinhardt, Maren. “Alexander von Humboldt: How the Most Famous Scientist of the Romantic Age Found the Soul of Nature”, Blue Bridge, 2019.

An Exceptional Life Lived in an Exceptional Time

Amos Lassen

Maren Meinhardt takes us on Alexander von Humboldt’s personal and professional journeys as she chronicles tracing his footsteps precisely and with great love. with precision and love. We see how his desire to know about wide and unknown things went out into the universe to form his personality.

Von Humboldt was the most famous scientist and explorer of his day and he was globally celebrated but such notables as  Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir. Goethe was his close friend and Darwin was tempted to travel to far away places after reading exclaimed, “How intensely I desire to be a Humboldt!” The great German poet Goethe was Humboldt’s friend, and after reading Humboldt’s work. Everywhere in the world, it seems, there are places named after him.

Humboldt was born in Berlin in 1769, the young Alexander von Humboldt and was soon found among Romantic writers and thinkers. His quest for knowledge was great and so he studied mining, then worked as an inspector of mines before his  felt the tremendous urge to see and know about “unknown things” and so he resigned and begin his great scientific expedition. First, he traveled through Central and South America with his collaborator, the French botanist Aimé Bonpland. He came back to Europe with scientific treasures. Later he climbed the Chimborazo in Ecuador, then believed to be the highest mountain in the world, but did not quite reach the top; he established the existence of the Casiquiare, a natural canal between the vast water systems of the Orinoco and the Amazon, but this had been known to local people; and his magisterial work, Cosmos, was left unfinished. He continued, nevertheless, on his immersive approach to science to find limits; his own and nature’s.

His legacy to us is a radically new look at and approach to science with roots in Romanticism. By searching for the hidden connections of things, he found where nature and human art come together. For Humboldt, nature is not just an object to be studied, but something with “which we have a deep, sensual affinity, and where the human mind must turn if it wants to truly come to understand itself.” He was a man transformed by his own experience of nature. He died in 1859, the same year Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”.

Maren Meinhardt uses Humboldt’s letters and published works to tell his story and to show he became the most admired scientist of hos time. He was a giant of his time and this is “…a completely convincing biographical portrait of a highly complex individual…[a] lovely, profound book.”

“Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir” by Andrew Ridgeley— The Other Half Speaks

Ridgeley, Andrew. “Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir”, Dutton,  2019.

The Other Half Speaks

Amos Lassen

For the first time, Andrew Ridgeley, one half of one of the most famous bands in the world, Wham!, the inside story of his lifelong friendship with George Michael, and the formation of a band that changed the shape of the music scene in the early 1980s. 
 
In 1975 Andrew met  shy new boy at school under his wing. They instantly hit it off and became fast friends. Their boyhood escapades at Bushy Meads School brought them together in bond that was never broken. They later found themselves on a roller coaster of success that took  them all over the world. They made and broke iconic records, they were treated like royalty, yet they stayed true to their friendship and to themselves. It was like being at a party that seemed as if it would never end. But it did end in front of tens of thousands of tearful fans at Wembley Stadium in 1986. This is
not only about Andrew and George. It is a photograph of the industry and the 80’s as it was.

Wham! was a “brief shining moment – an escape – and with the world the way it is escape is needed now more than ever.” Andrew talks and tells the whole truth taking us behind the scenes. This is also a beautiful tribute to George Michael.

“The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando” by William J. Mann— The Definitive Portrait

Mann, William J. “The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando”,  Harper, 2019.

The Definitive Portrait

Amos Lassen

I have read all of William J. Mann’s books and I eagerly await each one. He manages to get information about the people that he writes that no one has uncovered and that is true once again with. “The Contender”. This work is based on new and revelatory material from Brando’s own private archives and because Mann is such a fine writer, the 700 plus pages fly by. We get “a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of the greatest movie actor of the twentieth century, the elusive Marlon Brando, bringing his extraordinarily complex life into view as never before.”

Brando changed the way other actors see and use their craft. He approached each role naturally, honestly, and personally making his characterization his own. His performances or often unparallel such as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire and Terry in“On the Waterfront”. He challenged and codified our ideas of masculinity and sexuality and was also one stars “to use his fame as a platform to address social, political, and moral issues, courageously calling out America’s deeply rooted racism.” He was an icon for the modern age who was not only a great actor but also a great humanitarian and a “cultural soothsayer, a Cassandra warning us about the challenges to come.” He publicly protested against racial segregation and discrimination at the height of the Civil Rights movement and was arrested for doing so and was criticized as “being needlessly provocative.” What is interesting is that those actions of half a century ago have become a model many others follow today.

Mann Has done superb research in looking at Brando the man. He went back into the childhood traumas that echoed through his professional and personal life. Mann has checked and rechecked and what some may regard as gossip is not here. I found myself so engrossed in the book that I did little else but read it for two days.

I received my copy the day after my movie group finished its discussion on “Streetcar”, a drama that I am especially closed to in that I am from New Orleans and had also translated the play into Hebrew when I lived in Israel. I remember so well that while translating, I had the picture of Brando as Stanley in my mind the entire time and of course, that influenced the nuance of the Hebrew language for which many of the terms that Williams coined had never been translated before.

We forget (or maybe we don’t) that it was Brando who was responsible for bringing protest culture and Hollywood together. Brando lived at a time well before we had access to knowing everything about an actor but now that has changed. I don’t believe he ever wanted to be a cultural icon— that was not his style and I am quite sure that he was unaware that he was becoming one. Sure there were scandals and lots of sex but Brando was a complex man as Mann so beautifully shows us here.

This is the first biography to include Brando’s personal papers and original transcripts of interviews. Brando’s papers and those of director Elia Kazan give us new details about the actor’s iconic roles and how he created the characters. Private correspondence between Brando and Kazan reveal the story of how the relationship between the two men fell apart and there is so much more.

“Avidly Reads Making Out” by Kathryn Bond Stockton— A Non Binary Childhood

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. “Avidly Reads Making Out”, NYU Press, 2019.

A Non Binary Childhood

Amos Lassen

“Avidly Reads is a series of short books about how culture makes us feel. Founded in 2012 by Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle, Avidly—an online magazine supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books—specializes in short-form critical essays devoted to thinking and feeling. Avidly Reads is an exciting new series featuring books that are part memoir, part cultural criticism, each bringing to life the author’s emotional relationship to a cultural artifact or experience. Avidly Reads invites us to explore the surprising pleasures and obstacles of everyday life.”

Kathryn Bond Stockton sees making out as a prism through which to look at the cultural and political forces of our world: race, economics, childhood, books, and movies.  This is Stockton’s memoir about a non-binary childhood before that idea existed in her world. We think about kissing as we go with Stockton “to the bedroom, to the closet, to the playground, to the movies, and to solitary moments with a book, the ultimate source of pleasure.”

Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface xi

1. Making Out Is Kissing, Reading,

Sex with Ideas 1

  1. 2. Making Out Enterings, Outings,
    and Remains 15
  2. 3. Communal Making Out 55
  3. 4. Just Say No to Making Out 89
  4. 5. Making Out the Face 125

Coda 145

Acknowledgments 149

Notes 153

About the Author 161

“The Man Who Saw Everything” by Deborah Levy— Rewriting History

Levy, Deborah. “The Man Who Saw Everything”, Bloomsbury, 2019.

Rewriting History

Amos Lassen

In 1988, Saul Adler, a narcissistic young historian, has been invited to Communist East Berlin to do research and in exchange, he was to publish a favorable essay about the German Democratic Republic. He brought a gift with him for his translator’s sister, a Beatles lover is to be his host and Saul’s girlfriend will take a photograph of him standing in the crosswalk on Abbey Road. As he waits for her to arrive, he is grazed by an oncoming car, and this changes life totally.

Deborah Levy’s “The Man Who Saw Everything” is, in essence, about how difficult it is to see ourselves and others clearly. We read about the ghosts that “come back to haunt old and new love, previous and current incarnations of Europe, conscious and unconscious transgressions, and real and imagined betrayals, while investigating the cyclic nature of history and its reinvention by people in power.” Levy examines human imagination while blurring sexual and political binaries-feminine and masculine, East and West, past and present in order to reveal the full spectrum of our world.

Levy looks at masculinity through the thoughts of Saul, a proud defector who despises ‘authoritarian old men’ like his father and the regimes that they create and their dependence on separations by way of walls, be they real or imagined.

Levy is known for writing s about characters who deal with history and sexuality, and the kind of rootlessness that comes with both. They search for identity and discover that history lays traps for us yet also provides escapes when they are least expected. This is a story of connection related through sophistication and lovely artistry. Levy explores the commonalities between personal and political history, and brings up questions about we see ourselves and how others see us.

We revisit aspects of Europe’s authoritarian 20th-century history through Saul’s shattered mind. I found myself disoriented and fascinated. This story slips through time, countries and ways of seeing. We gain a sense of what it means to look back on a life and build a whole from our experiences.

As the book opens a person of indeterminate sex – someone who is knocked over on Abbey Road in 1988. It is Saul Adler who hurt his hip and bloodied his clothes. Saul lives in London and as a researcher of the German Democratic Republic who has focused on the psychopathy of male tyrants. He is just about to head off to East Berlin. He takes a copy of the photograph  of Abbey Road with him as a gift for Luna (a great Beatles fan). He arrives in East Berlin and lives with Walter’s mother and sister and researches at the University.

Saul is German by heritage and his father was a Communist, so there is also the question of where he should bury a token of his father’s ashes. He is constantly on the lookout for a suitable location. The book moves forward to June 2016, just after the UK voted to leave the European Union as we begin a reflection, the second half of the book is a reflection on both past and present. Saul tries to make sense of his place in the world both then and now, but there are narcotics and madness through that he must understand his place. He thinks about his past spontaneous sexual encounters which establish him as bisexual)and what love means to him. He is bothered by the idea of Stasi surveillance and he believes that they are targeting him.

We get a sense of East Berlin behind the Wall as the storyline plays with psychological theories. The book is filled with Levy’s wordplay and its wonderful and yes I learned something about the way I am perceived by others and how I see them.

“Reading Sedgwick” edited by Laura Berlant— An Important Voice in Queer Theory

Berlant, Laura, editor. “Reading Sedgwick”, Duke University Press, 2019.

An Important Voice in Queer Theory

Amos Lassen

It seems as if it has been a long time since I have read or heard the name of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, one of the most important voices in queer theory whose words I treasured as a young academic. Her calls for reparative criticism and reading practices were grounded in affect and performance and they have transformed our understandings of affect, intimacy, politics, and identity. Sedgwick wrote with a tenderness that I was not used to and so do those who contributed to this volume. We have reflections on Sedgwick’s many critical inventions including her “elucidation of poetry’s close relation to criticism and development of new versions of queer performativity to highlighting the power of writing to engender new forms of life.” We see that Sedgwick’s work is an “ongoing vital force in queer theory and affect theory; it can help us build a more positive world in the midst of the bleak contemporary moment.”

Contributors include Lauren Berlant, Kathryn Bond Stockton, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Jason Edwards, Ramzi Fawaz, Denis Flannery, Jane Gallop, Jonathan Goldberg, Meridith Kruse, Michael Moon, José Esteban Muñoz, Chris Nealon, Andrew Parker, H. A. Sedgwick, Karin Sellberg, Michael D. Snediker, Melissa Solomon, Robyn Wiegman

Sedgwick’s writing and intelligence lights up so much of what we are not aware of. We need her intelligence, her queer sensibility, and the way she used language. This is a book for those who read Sedgwick for the first time and as a review for those wishing to be reminded of her contributions to the canon.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Preface. Reading Sedgwick, Then and Now / Lauren Berlant  1
Introduction. “An Open Mesh of Possibilities”: The Necessity of Eve Sedgwick in Dark Times / Ramzi Fawaz  6
Note. From H. A. Sedgwick / H. A. Sedgwick  34
1. What Survives / Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman  37
2. Proust at the End / Judith Butler  63
3. For Beauty Is a Series of Hypotheses? Sedgwick and Fiber Artist / Jason Edwards  72
4. In / Denis Flannery  92
5. Early and Earlier Sedgwick / Jane Gallop  113
6. Eve’s Future Figures / Jonathan Goldberg  121
7. Sedgwick’s Perverse Close Reading and the Question of an Erotic Ethics / Meredith Kruse  132
8. On the Eve of the Future / Michael Moon  141
9. Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate: Gary Fisher with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick / José Esteban Muñoz  152
10. Sedgwick Inexhaustible / Chris Nealon  166
11. The Age of Frankenstein / Andrew Parker   178
12. Queer Patience: Sedgwick’s Identity Narratives / Karin Sellberg  189
13. Weaver’s Handshake: The Aesthetics of Chronic Objects (Sedgwick, Emerson, James) / Michael D. Snediker  203
14. Eighteen Things I Love about You / Melissa Solomon  236
15. Eve’s Triangles: Queer Studies Beside Itself / Robyn Wiegman  242
Afterword / Kathryn Bond Stockton  274
Acknowledgments  279
Bibliography  281
Contributors  295
Index