As is always the case, lots happened this week, but my preoccupation continues to be the implications of the 7 and 9 January 2015 murders in Paris, or at least what they are coming to represent. As Kenan Malik laments in his excellent op-ed piece for Göteborg-Posten, the initial wave of sympathy for the dead and the huge public manifestations which happened as a reaction all over France, and in other countries, exactly one year ago don’t seem to have changed much for the better when it comes to public opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. European countries, France not least among them, continue prosecuting people for various forms of “hate speech” and “terrorist sympathies” while identity politics are leading educated people in increasingly absurd to silence others. And Islamist reactionaries and jihadists seem as determined as ever to silence any perceived transgressors, whether in the West or in Muslim majority countries, most recently and horrifically Saudi Arabia. At the same time, very few in the West are joining Charlie Hebdo in the necessary, continued testing of the boundaries. And frankly Charlie itself is much diminished now that several of their best cartoonists are either dead or have left the publication.
There is, however, some cause for optimism. The fact that Charlie is now a household name, and that the timing and particular combination of targets in the attack last January seems to have secured for them a special, still-horrifying place in our collective memory, may mean that the particular issues of intolerance and freedom of expression they raise will remain with us as reminders of what we have to lose for a long time.
Jeremy Harding on Emmanuel Todd’s Who Is Charlie? I found Todd’s polemic-dressed-up-in-sociological-respectability at times grating, even shrill, and at times overly Utopian, but it is a fascinating read for what it tells us about French nationalisms, and for what it suggests regarding am egalitarian republican future that not only incorporates but is nurtured lapsed Muslims. The review is a good introduction, but read the book.
Adam Gopnik’s forward to the American edition of murdered Charlie editor Charb’s in my opinion rather underwhelming posthumously published pamphletOpen Letter on Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. Gopnik isn’t all that great here, but he is eloquent and summarizes the contents of the book well.
Kenan Malik (again!) is worth reading on the roots of radicalisation in Europe, and Thomas Hegghammer’s weeks-old op-ed on the allure of life as a jihadist today is a fascinating, even humanising read.
Al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Hajj on his time in custody in Pakistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Horrifying and informative.
The illustration above is by T. Thorhauge. I ran as part of Danish comics site Nummer9′s cartoon responses to the January Paris murders.
Writing extemporally what’s on my mind was kind of the point of these posts back when I was doing them regularly (i.e. almost weekly), so I guess that’s what I’ll do here for this brief resurfacing on my blog.
It’s a new year, and as usual it holds promise while simultaneously carrying a lot of baggage with it. Just these first few days remind us that people are still dying on the beaches of Europe while an increasingly destructive civil was is going on in the Middle East, Sweden — my neighbouring country as I write this — is instating universal ID checks at the border for the first time in generations, costing the country millions and reminding us all of the profundity of the problem we’re facing in Europe. Oh, and so-called Islamic State has just released another piece of vile agitprop promising bloody murder in Britain, my country of residence. And so on.
Yet, all of this seems strangely unreal to me, in the grip as I am — at least in unguarded moments — of a kind of apocalyptic paralysis. For obvious reasons 2015 was a stark reminder that climate change is almost certain to change the world as we know it over the course of the next generation. All the current problems are negligible in comparison to what’s on the horizon. COP21 arguably provided some cause for optimism, but it seems foolish fully to trust that we will be able to avert the cataclysm science tells us is coming to an extent that doesn’t profoundly upset life everywhere on Earth.
We’re all good at repressing such emotions, but I still can’t quite chase a feeling of futility every time I see, say, a new construction project or ceasefire initiative, never mind the ephemeral things I myself spend my energy on. What remains is the knowledge that my children will almost certainly have to manage life in a world radically, violently different from ours, where most of these concerns will be forgotten.
Nothing particularly enlightening about that, I know. Futile venting, I know. What’s the use?
For what it’s worth, here are some links:
Because I just read his excellent memoir, Between the World and Me, and was reminded of the horrifying Rosewood pogrom by this article, here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ classic essay “The Case for Reparations.”
It’s been a slow year here at the Bunker. Don’t know that 2016 won’t be the same, but I’ll be sure to let y’all know when and if things kick up again. Thanks for stopping by and all best to you and yours.
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Giorgione, The Adoration of the Kings, 1506-7, London, National Gallery
It’s been forever since I did one of these. Such is the half dormant life of this blog. But anyway, the itch is still occasionally there so here we go.
The above video was made a few months ago to coincide with the opening of the Sansovino Frames exhibition at the National Gallery. We had just successfully acquired the beautiful Venetian (non-Sansovino) frame which now adorns Titian’s Allegory of Prudence, partly through crowdfunding, and which features in the clip. I think it encapsulates well some of the very real pleasures of working with great artworks: the fact that details count; the kind of holistic thinking the works demand of you when you plan their display; and not least the passion and expertise that they demand. I appear for a brief moment and contribute nothing, but do watch the video for the insight it gives into our framing department and the great work Peter Schade and his staff do there.
OK, here are some links:
London Art Week. I haven’t yet really done the rounds, but I did have a chance to look at this drawing attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo. I’m unsure about the attribution, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful. And while we’re talking Sebastiano, there’s what I do believe is bona fide painting by him in Christie’s day sale.
Mikkel Sommer. A rising star on the Danish comics scene. He hasn’t yet delivered a work really delivering on his great talent, but if he keeps dropping gems like this brilliant GIF he’ll keep at least this reader watching him.
Roskilde 2015. No, I’m not there this year, sadly, but if you read Danish, you can follow the coverage of the hip hop at the festival by my homies at Rapspot here. Prominent in the line-up was El-P and Killer Mike’s by now ubiquitous-in-hipsterdom-but-no-less-awesome-for-that project Run the Jewels. They surely killed it, if their performance last weekend at Glastonbury is anything to go by.
Passing the mantle: Thomas Thorhauge and Stine Spedsbjerg at the Danish Comics Council general assembly in March
It happened a few weeks ago, but I figured I should still note it here: we have a new chairman, or rather chairwoman, of the Danish Comics Council. Elected at the general assembly on 18 March, Stine Spedsbjerg succeeds my pal Thomas Thorhauge who had decided to step down. Stine is a successful online cartoon diarist and earns her keep in advertising. She’s enormously enterprising and resourceful — I can’t think of a better person to take over.
The Danish Comics Council was founded in 2009. I was part of the founding group along with a diverse group of comics professionals, and have sat on the board since. Considering that we have had no funding apart from the annual fee paid by members, it’s been a productive five years: we’ve had a hand in the establishment of a state-approved cartoonist’s programme (BA, ‘graphic storytelling’) at the Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark — the first of its kind in Denmark; we’ve managed to place the semi-private Comics Museum archive with a state-recognized institution, the Storm P. Museum in Copenhagen, which secures it for the future in terms of preservation, collection, expansion, research and facilitation; we’ve created an comics award, the Ping, given annually to cartoonists in a number of categories; we’ve undertaken annual registration of all comics published in Denmark, published annually in a small compendium; we’ve arranged two conferences at the University of Copenhagen, one of which helped stimulate the establishment of the Nordic Network for Comics Research (NNCORE): we’ve partnered with the ambitious Danish comics biennial Copenhagen Comics; we’ve brought comics to wide audiences through live cartooning and other activities; and quite a lot more.
While Thomas takes a well-deserved breather (though remaining at the Council’s board), there is plenty for Stine to get up to. The Comics Council is still essentially an unfunded organisation and other affiliated groups such as Copenhagen Comics will also depend on more steady sources of funding to survive — the hope is eventually to secure larger, ongoing partnerships with possible patrons, as well as with the Danish State to help secure an institutional infrastructure for Danish comics in the future. And I know Stine also has ambitions for preaching the comics gospel to a much wider audience than is currently the case.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and it will probably be a while yet before I do another one. Much happening in terms of relocating more permanently to London, so… but I just felt the itch to post something here wishing you all (those of you still reading this rather stagnant page) a happy new year. Over the holiday I rekindled my interest in the civil rights movement and black liberation in the US by reading Manning Marable’s fantastic, and controversial, biography of Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention. Presenting by far the most nuanced view of this complex figure so far, it does more to make him human, real, in the reader’s eye than just about anything else I’ve read. My one quibble is that by being so scrupulous about presenting the details of his life, warts and all, it tends to lose sight of what made him, this leader who achieved very little in terms of concrete political results, such a crucial figure in modern American history. It lacks sufficient exegesis on his words and thoughts, despite an excellent closing chapter that aims to provide perspective. But don’t let that deter if you have any interest in American history or the civil rights movement. It’s a great book.
With that, I figured I’d post the above video of Malcolm X speaking in Oxford (close to home for me now, that’s why, I guess!) in 1964, five or six months after having broken with the Nation of Islam. It’s a remarkable encapsulation of the fluctuating state of his thought at that moment, starting with a forceful statement of principle — the nature of American racism, the use of violence — entirely consistent with his earlier, more confrontational rhetoric, passes through a Barry Goldwater quote as well — poignantly — as one from Hamlet, to an approchement to the civil rights movement and embrace of the vote as a potential game changer for black Americans. And he ends on a universalist, revolutionary call for action. There are greater moments to be found in his many speeches and interviews (the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University is a good place to start learning more), but I love the eclecticism and coherence of this clip.
For those that missed it, Barton Gellman of the Washington Postinterviewed Edward Snowden at some length last week. The paper also provided a disturbing perspective on the development of quantum computers and what it may mean for universal surveillance.
For Danish readers, this piece on how Green Growth has become a global buzzword over the last ten years , loosening the purse strings of corporations as well as government worldwide, is worth checking out. The same goes for Rune Lykkeberg’s piece on how the centre-left seems to have taken back the microphone in the Danish discourse on moral values.