I drove into the California dessert to talk with one of my heroes, Ben Ehrenreich. Ben is a writer and a public intellectual whose book The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine is, I think, required reading. It's a moving portrait of Ben's time living in Palestine, constantly under brutal siege by the Israeli government and military. Instead of crafting political talking points (although those arise naturally from the book), Ben shares the stories of the people he meets, lives with, and becomes friends with in Palestine. It's a beautiful, compelling, and powerful book about hope and its absence and what both give to the human spirit.
Ben is also the author of two novels (Ether, and The Suitors), as well as many short stories, articles (a favorite of mine which comes up in the show is "Predator or Prey?") and works or criticism. You can find many of them linked to on his website.
IN THIS EPISODE
- Ben is a real public intellectual. Where did all the other ones go?: 1:20
- Writing characters and minds in fiction vs trying to bring living people to readers in journalism: 4:30
- On the problem of wrongly convicted sex offenders and the structure of our penal/punitive system: 10:55
- How do you learn to be more than an expert, more than a memoirist and actually write toward truth?: 16:50
- The spiritual act of finding the liars who reveal the truth: 19:00
- Scrutinizing objectivity as a tool of power: 24:00
- The descent into literalness, why justice narratives fail to approach art, and the attempt to control meaning: 29:10
- "In countries...where people are less educated than Americans are...people often have a far more sophisticated sense of how to interpret and read media." 32:10
- "Facts" as stand-ins for moral blindness about Israel and Palestine: 33:20
- How Ben came to live in Palestine and to learn about the protests in Nabih Saleh: 39:10
- Don't dehumanize people by erasing struggle or by amplifying it till it drowns out life itself: 44:35
- The arrest of Ahed Tamimi - a Palestinian child who stood up to Israeli soldiers: 48:50
- The webbing of military and police and legal camaraderie in Israel, and why Palestinians can't hope to be treated fairly: 53:50
- Throwing stones against occupiers with machine guns and military vehicles is not violence: 59:40
- The ever-present fabric of violence woven by the Israeli government into Palestinian lives: 1:02:20
- The international investment in the Israeli government's perpetual brutalization of Palestinians: 1:04:50
- The rise of the right wing in Israel: 1:13:05
- What is the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement?: 1:15:05
If you'd like to give to a charity that directly supports Palestinians, here's the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund. And here's a site that serves as a hub for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions or BDS movement, which I urge you to look into.
I paraphrased Susan Sontag, what she actually wrote was, "My idea of a writer: someone interested in everything."
Some of the authors we discuss are authors you should read if you haven't yet (and read more of if you have!). The great bizarre humorist Donald Barthelme, the violent and sharpened thin-edged Brian Evenson, the profoundly spacious and darkly etheric WG Sebald.
Here's Ben's excellent essay on James Rodriguez, wrongly convicted of sex offenses in the 80s. For some thoughtful and easy-to-read theoretical writing on sex panics, read Roger Lancaster's Sex Panic and the Punitive State.
Once again I mention Todd McGowan's excellent book, Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis. Just buy it already! And also check out Lorainne Datson and Peter Galison's excellent historical/theoretical exploration of the development of the concept objectivity, appropriately entitled...Objectivity.
Interested in seeing the well-made, morally bankrupt movie, Eye in the Sky?
Ben has written a short account of the arrest of Ahed Tamimi here. Some more Palestine resources: Here's Abby Martin interviewing Ahed Tamimi. The best resource for information on Palestine and Israel's abuses is Electronic Intifada, founded by Ali Abunimah.
The book I mention which expresses why Israel encourages a perpetual state of slow ethnic cleansing is The War Against The People by Jeff Halper. I still don't know what the problems with Halper are (a friend told me there were issues), so if there are some and you know, feel free to acquaint me with them. Either way, it is a powerful book that exposes just how deeply entrenched the world's interests are in Israel.
Susan Sontag on the courage of those who refuse to serve in the Israeli military.
Since the episode of AEWCH with Mark Bray keeps coming up, here's a link to it in case you missed it.
Here's one of the best things I've ever read about Palestine by a non-Palestinian, the essay "Two Weeks In Palestine: My First Visit" by anthropologist Michael Taussig. It starts with a strangle that he somehow continues to breathe through: "I pretty well stopped eating in Palestine, not because I wasn’t offered food at every turn, but because the intensity ate me alive. It was like I was breathing different air on a different planet where the customary laws of gravity and physics no longer existed."
A great book about pinkwashing - the exploitation of LGBT rights to justify violence against Palestinians is Israel/Palestine and the Queer International by Sarah Schulman.
Finally, I'd be remiss here not to mention that Ben Ehrenreich is, yes, the son of that other great Ehrenreich.
Checkpoint that Palestinians have to pass through every day - often it takes five hours - just to go to work.
Bassem, Nariman, and Ahed Tamimi
Ahed standing up to the Israeli military, a crime for which she would later -
still as a child - be arrested and imprisoned.