January 29th, 2011 / 2:42 pm

An apolitical writer?

For the past 36 hours or so, I’ve been hooked on Al Jazeera.

Egypt. Fuck. Things are happening. Yemen. Jordan.

And yet, on writing blogs and other social networking sites, almost nothing is being said about it, at least from the writers. It leads me to think that many writers develop an apolitical stance, a focus on aesthetics as politic rather than politics as politic. Ken Baumann wrote a smart rant about electronics, which was ridiculed by some, praised by others, but what’s noteworthy is the immediate suspicion and rebuttal against his overt political message. Why is this?

Should we care about Egypt? Why? Why not? Do you see this apoliticization and what do you think causes it? Or: please prove me wrong.

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  1. Tracy

      Personally, I was oblivious until Friday morning, and then I couldn’t believe my eyes.
      Egypt dominated my day.

      And sadly, you’re right.

      It didn’t occur to me to post anything at Smash Cake or my other blogs. I kept it limited to the Facebook wall and Twitter stream environments. It wasn’t a conscious choice; in fact, I’m quite astonished it didn’t even cross my mind.

      That said, if it had, I’d have certainly opened up discussion there, too. I wouldn’t shy away from it.

  2. lily hoang

      But you wouldn’t have shied away. That’s what’s important. Thanks, Tracy.

  3. Brian Spears

      To the extent I’ve written about it at The Rumpus, I’ve done link roundups. I haven’t done any analysis of what’s going on because I don’t have a clue about it–not that that stops writerly types (even me) from opining at great length on other issues we know nothing about–I’m just keeping my piehole shut on this one. As to why there’s not more coverage, I don’t have a clue.

  4. marc nash

      You’re absolutely right. The presumption of any writer is that others will be interested enough to read their words, their opinions, their world view makes it a political act to write. No writer wants to fail to have an influence upon the reader. I’m not saying all writing has to be political, but fiction in particular ought to at least consider its relationship to reality, even fantasy.escapist fiction ought to be conscious of why a reader might opt to escape from the reality of their world for the duration of the read.

      Sadly authors seem too wrapped up in other considerations on the whole. Plus in the Uk at least, there seems to be no appetite for political fiction, so authors practise self-censorship as led by the market.

      Thanks for your post.

      Marc Nash

  5. GennaRiley

      You’re absolutely right. I wrote a quick and dirty blog on the AZ shooting, but it didn’t cross my mind to do one about Egypt.

      The lack of blogs relating to this historic event in Egypt doesn’t mean that writers are not discussing it. They are, but as Tracy said, keeping it to Facebook and Twitter.

      Of course, the protests in Egypt continue with no end in sight and I am, like many others, glued to Al Jazeera live stream. If I could pry myself away for a decent amount of time, a blog could be written.

      Thank you for this.

  6. GennaRiley

      You’re absolutely right. I wrote a quick and dirty blog on the AZ shooting, but it didn’t cross my mind to do one about Egypt.

      The lack of blogs relating to this historic event in Egypt doesn’t mean that writers are not discussing it. They are, but as Tracy said, keeping it to Facebook and Twitter.

      Of course, the protests in Egypt continue with no end in sight and I am, like many others, glued to Al Jazeera live stream. If I could pry myself away for a decent amount of time, a blog could be written.

      Thank you for this.

  7. Jarrett

      This week and the next we’re running a story about/set in Egypt. Not so much as a means to be politic/apolitic; it just happened that way, though I’m very glad to have had it in store when everything went down. http://bit.ly/fvURjl

      Hi Lily.

  8. lily hoang

      Very cool, Jarrett! And hello, it’s been a LONG time, or, seemingly long. I hope you’re doing well.

  9. lily hoang

      Hi Marc, I’m not saying that writers should only write political fiction, but everything we write does have a political stance to it, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Anyways, thank you for your comments. I agree.

  10. lily hoang

      Well, The Rumpus is amazing.

  11. lily hoang

      Hi Genna, Most of my friends on Facebook are writers. There’s very little dialogue happening about Egypt from my end. (No, people are still putting up quippy, clever posts about minutia as if Egypt wasn’t happening!) That’s what started this whole post. I mean, the fact of the matter is that almost EVERYONE is (or should be) talking about this. We’re watching a revolution(s) in real time. It’s insane. Plus, the position Egypt occupies! But what happens next: that’s what keeps me baited and hopeful and hopeless and then back to hopeful and on and on.

  12. Stephen Elliott

      I dont think this is true. We’ve been linking to stories and doing roundups as information has been available on The The Rumpus. I’ve also written about it in the last two Daily Rumpus emails.

  13. lily hoang

      Hi Stephen, Like I said above Brian: Well, The Rumpus is amazing. I should’ve given you guys credit. So, third time: The Rumpus is amazing. Thank you, thank you!! (Because this is on-line, please understand that I am being completely serious and not ironic at all! It’s hard to tell in comments. Just clarifying.)

  14. Mike Meginnis

      I don’t write about Egypt because I don’t know anything about Egypt and Egypt isn’t about me. Honestly would prefer most people followed this policy. When we write or tweet about these things it’s mostly self-important drivel, trying to convince each other we’re passionate about the right causes, making a difference, etc. Whatever’s going on over there, it’s out of my power, and I hope it goes as well as it can, with as few people hurt as possible.

  15. Rebecca Bates

      As far as “social networking sites” go, my Twitter feed yesterday was dominated by writers tweeting about Egypt.

  16. Vaughan Simons

      Interesting post, and a topic I feel kind of divided about. Like you, I’m shocked/surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion about the situation in Egypt – but would I expect to see it referred to blogs and sites within the literary community? Probably not, no. Ultimately, in such a fast-moving situation, I turn to news sites for the latest information – if I’m getting my world news from literary sites then, to be honest, I think there’s something wrong with my sense of priorities and I should probably remove the blinkers from my face.

      Having said that, there *has* been discussion, comment and linking as regards Egypt on Facebook and Twitter – places that can keep pace much better. Yet here I’ve been disappointed to see – amongst the people I follow – that it’s been the people I know are politically aware who have been keeping up this commentary. Writers? Not so much. From what I can tell, the ones I follow at least have just kept talking about writing.

      It’s not nearly as cataclysmic as what’s happening in Egypt, but I’m reminded of the past couple of months in the UK, where I live. We’ve had protests – often shockingly violent in nature – on the streets by students demonstrating against the rise in tuition fees. It’s a rise that may well prevent many future generations going to university to study arts subjects, because they’ll be losing funding and the concentration will be on more business-oriented degrees. Some high profile, well-established writers have aired their concerns about this, but in general the response seems to have been a half-hearted shrug. At the same time, arts budgets across the country have been slashed (the local authority in an area where I used to live cut their budgets by 100%!) as part of nationwide economic cuts – again, there have been protests by high-profile names, but the equivalent of the HTMLGIANT-style “literary community” has been largely silent.

      I really can’t understand such reactions. No one’s suggesting that writers have to be 100 per cent engaged with political events, or even writing in response to those same events, but too often they seem so wrapped up in their own little world that it appears as if they’re actively disinterested. (On a couple of occasions, I saw writers I follow on Twitter more or less saying “Enough about the protests!” – which really left me amazed at such a short-sighted attitude.)

  17. Anonymous

      Most of the folks I follow on Twitter are writers, and many of them seem to be tweeting or at least re-tweeting news and opinions on Egypt. I don’t feel like anybody needs to prove you wrong. Maybe you just need to start paying attention to different people?

  18. Madison Langston

      I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve been kind of shocked at how little I’ve heard about Egypt, both from people I know and blogs that I follow. I keep wondering if people don’t know? Or don’t have an opinion? Or think expressing an opinion is off-putting to their internet audience? But, like you, I’ve been hooked to Al Jazeera and I feel like there should be some kind of dialogue about this that just naturally occurs because everything that is happening is so huge… but maybe not.

  19. Roxane

      I have been following the news about Egypt with a great deal of interest but I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to write about it. I don’t know nearly enough about the complex political situation in Egypt to comment. It would be an insult to the gravity of what is taking place for me to even try. I don’t think silence is an apolitical act, though. When things happen in Haiti, for example, where I am familiar with the political situation, I have plenty to say.

  20. Roxane

      I absolutely agree. In a few days people will be doing things like reposting some Facebook message or changing their Twitter photo as if that bears any sort of meaning with regards to a revolution in Egypt.

  21. christopher.

      I echo this. It’s not that I don’t think it important. I’ve been glued to that shit, and have brought it up in conversation with a good handful of friends now. I worry about Haneen of the Understanding Campaign, because I believe in her and care about her as a person and hope her well in all the chaos, and I hope the protests (dare we call it a revolution?) find their desired result (I’m all for people rising up to bitch slap a despot, and I will root for them the whole way), but I don’t know anything about Egypt beyond their position with us as an ally and why Obama is doing the safety dance around the issue. I hope for the best, but like Mike said, anything I’d write would be self-important posturing, and ignorant of any real meaning at best.

  22. Ken Baumann

      There are two positive effects, though, from that behavior on a large scale: a feeling of support and acceptance is created; the cultural sense that the people are being watched and cheered on. Zeitgeist-support. And it will make people more attentive to the situation, even if most of the attention is short-lived or shallow; some will come away changed, vitally changed.

  23. lily hoang

      MIke and Roxane: I’m sorry, but your comments seem so cynical. Don’t you think people can genuinely care about something that doesn’t have a direct impact on their lives? Do you really think it all comes from some self-righteous/self-important stance? (I agree that with many people this is the case, but I care very much about the situation in Egypt, in no small part because I have Egyptian friends, but also because this is an important moment. People are choosing. People are taking control.)

      Honestly, do you think my discussing this on a forum like HTML giant is self-important posturing?

  24. Amy McDaniel

      I’m with Mike and Roxane. A big part of writing is reading. I’m reading about Egypt and I’m thinking thoughts about it, but they are probably not original thoughts because I’m not there and never have been. Last week I talked to a waiter from Tunisia about Tunisia, and I can tell you that I would much rather hear about what’s going on there from him than from some writer here who talks about being addicted to Al Jazeera. Nobody’s going learn more about the situation in Egypt by hearing that I am addicted to Al Jazeera, that’s for sure. Sometimes it pays to read, and think, rather than rushing to write about something you have no unique perspective on and, worse, something you don’t really understand.

  25. Roxane

      I did not say I don’t care. I care very much. I said I am not in a position to comment because I am not that familiar with Egypt. I also see a very alarming trend, to *me*, of people doing things like posting pictures of cartoons on Facebook to end domestic violence, or changing their Twitter icon green to do this or that. That feels like it minimizes very serious things. Yes, those gestures do, as Ken says below, create a sense of support and acceptance. I had not thought of it that way but I see what he’s saying. I am a little cynical, definitely, but I am not apathetic.

      I also wasn’t commenting on your post, which I think was great. I was commenting on a very specific brand of Internet based political discussion.

  26. Ken Baumann

      I don’t know if my letter is political as much as it is ethical. I see a group of people making stuff by paying violent people to be violent. And the stuff these people make is not food or water; it is not necessary. And I see them aggressively promoting the consumption of this stuff, and throwing out this stuff in a radically capped lifecycle, wasting it, in order to create more of it and the desire for more of it. It’s gross. I’m baffled when anyone who sees that tries to dismiss it.

  27. lily hoang

      fine line between ethical and political? i thought your letter was both. i thought the reaction had more to do with its political nature than its ethical nature. no one can complain or question or judge good ethics, but politics… maybe i’m wrong and i wrangled you into this mess unnecessarily. if so, sorry, ken. i misjudged the intention of your post.

  28. Mike Meginnis

      You can care about it. I care. And I don’t know what your motives are. But I don’t see how it would be helpful to write from a position of ignorance, which is my position. What we should do is *read.* And even when we’re done reading, we’ll probably end up where we began, more or less: confused, uncertain, and hoping, vaguely, for the best. I think humility requires us to acknowledge we can’t be sure what the best outcome would even look like, precisely — at least those of us who don’t know much about the region. (Don’t know what you know — only speaking for myself.) Should I hope for an outcome I wouldn’t understand? Again, I don’t know — even once I know more, I suspect I’ll still be where I am now: hoping for the best.

      If my “support” could somehow help I guess I would offer it, but abstract support seems worthless and real support from the US might well be counterproductive, as we saw with Iran.

  29. Amy McDaniel

      Where you see cynicism in their comments, I see humility. I don’t think your post is self-important, Lily, but I do think your post implies that you can only care by writing about something, and that you had better write about it immediately. Perhaps I give people too much credit, but at least based on my twitter feed I don’t feel at all as if Egypt is being ignored (whereas Ken did bring my attention to something that I wasn’t that aware of), so I didn’t feel the need to issue my own news flash. Also, this is a literature blog. I think writers of literature do better to take a little time, to process, to draw out something larger from these things, whereas journalists should be doing the on-the-ground work of dealing with what’s topical.

  30. lily hoang

      That’s completely fair, Amy. I don’t think we show care by writing about something immediately though.

      My post wasn’t even about Egypt, not really. Like other commenters, I don’t know enough to write an actual commentary about the situation. I was more curious about the reaction on my end of things. I’m not on Twitter. Maybe that’s the difference. I’m still back in 2003 with Facebook alone. I’m not trying to be self-righteous, and I’m worried that I come off that way. I like the direction of this conversation though.

  31. Amy McDaniel

      I also like the direction of the conversation and I’m glad you started it. The question remains, what is our role, not just as writers but as people. Someone could perhaps too easily ask what the point of reading about it is if we’re just going to stay quiet and do nothing, and I’m not totally sure what my rebuttal would be, though I still think we have to keep reading about this and much more. I’m as glad as the next person that those Chilean miners were saved, but it’s troubling that somehow Americans are made to care so much more about them than countless other people whose lives are endangered every day.

  32. Ken Baumann

      Oh no, don’t apologize. You’re probably right; the letter is a call to organize action, which is a wrangling of power, basically, and that is political. Unfortunately, cell phones and computers have mostly entered into the realm of Necessity in this country, which makes the problem less clear cut. I still try to paint it as purely ethical because I think that’s more effective, it’s how I view it and I act accordingly in terms of consumption, and it questions the true use of these new technologies, which I think is always smart to do.

  33. Sean
  34. lily hoang

      That is some scary shit. And it seemed way too easy, right?

  35. Roxane

      That, I find horrifying. I did not know such a thing was even possible.

  36. lily hoang
  37. goner

      I think what is happening in the Arab world is something many Westerners (or at least Americans) care about as long as it is a “thing.” And by that I mean it’s something being covered on twitter and Gawker and Facebook, etc. and everybody is into it in the same way they are into Jersey Shore or American Idol or whatever else is a thing. Sort of like how Haiti was a “thing” until it wasn’t. Or the way Obama’s campaign got young people briefly interested in politics until the election was over. And of course the number of young people who turned out to vote during the midterms was drastically down even though the midterm elections were hugely important in reshaping political power for years to come.

      But when a thing is happening there is a certain level of competition among people to act like they care more than others and are totally more informed than others because they are reading all about it in the foreign press. (By the way, you know who else is also doing a fantastic job covering this? The New York Times.) But this is all short-attention span theater these days and within a week or two most people will stop caring. I’m not putting myself above this because you know, I rarely read up on Afghanistan anymore even though I know I should.

  38. Sean


      Here is an article about a “kill switch” for the American internet.

      My understanding, in Egypt, is that the government doesn’t “own” the internet but they can make a few phone calls to companies that do actually have the infrastructure of the internet. These companies can’t really say no, since their livelihood depends in contracts with the government.

      I assume America wouldn’t ask anyone’s permission.

      A few years ago the TN department of transportation wanted to build a highway and take a large section of my grandmother’s land to do so. They didn’t ask. The highway is there, the family’s land (generational old) is not asphalt. Nothing like cars zooming by a 100 year old once-rural house…

  39. Sean

      I mean now asphalt…

  40. zusya

      “We will not be silenced, whether you’re a Christian, whether you’re a Muslim, whether you’re an atheist, you will demand your goddamn rights, and we will have our rights, one way or the other! We will never be silenced!”


  41. phmadore

      “To focus only on the negative camps, the political, and the offensive seems intentionally revisionist to me. I feel like we do a lot of good. We help get word out about books we love, and some pretty amazing discussions happen in the meantime, even when they turn to blood on the web browser. I always find it just as disheartening when people only want to focus on the “male dominated” aspects of the site, which to me are a small fraction of the identity, and yet one that seems the most poked at. It is much more about passion than it is dimunition or labeling or what have you. If there’s anything “literature” needs it is to relax, expand, absorb.”

      -Blake Butler, May 4th, 2010.

      And don’t make me start quoting you, Roxane.

      HTMLGIANT is about style, it is about profit, and it is about promotion. Many, many times its principle founders have shouted down anyone who’s suggested that literature or writers had any purpose beyond such.

      So just get over it, Lily, and come to the dark side.


  42. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      A couple of things here —

      The phenomenon Roxane is describing is real and often a real problem — symbolic internet activism with no real call to action. The folks writing about how to use social media to support social movements call it slacktivism.

      BUT — there is also a cultural, ideological, discursive dimension to any political or social justice issue, so “raising awareness” isn’t totally without value. There is just a phenomenon of that being ALL that happens that is a problem.

      …I also think there is a distinction that needs to be made between true solidarity that supports and empowers folks on the ground in Egypt versus the kind of uninformed posturing (the kind of concern abt “the other” or “over there” that quickly becomes paternalistic or patronizing) that I think Roxane is critiquing, if I’m reading her right.

  43. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      At what point, though, does it become your responsibility to become more aware? Maybe learning more abt the region is different than actually writing abt it, but I do feel like there’s something abt the way you’re talking abt it that makes your lack of knowledge sound like some fundamental and unalterable part of who you are as opposed to something you could easily change with a little bit of reading.

  44. Roxane

      That is, indeed, what I am critiquing. Awareness is important but this sort of blind bandwagon activism where people don’t really know what they’re talking about, that frustrates me.

  45. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think holding back if one feels they have nothing to add (I certainly haven’t said anything) is totally fair, and I think there are probably also ways to use our platforms, to whatever extent we have them, to amplify the voices of the folks directly involved and affected — Link roundups like what the Rumpus says they’re doing are one approach.

  46. Mike Meginnis

      I’m confused about which part of my saying one should read experts instead of writing suggests I don’t want to do “a little bit of reading.” I’m very literally saying the opposite.

      I do suspect that given my limited time and expertise (don’t speak the relevant languages, etc.) I will never reach a level of awareness that would make me feel comfortable saying what should and shouldn’t happen in a country I have no friends or family, though.

  47. zusya

      also, i might as well post this too: http://totallycoolpix.com/2011/01/the-egypt-protests/ (unfortunately named website with numerous on-the-ground pics from egypt. WARNING: graphic, as in holes in people’s chins)

      also also, lily, there’s a ton of stuff being written and read about egypt in just the past couple days alone. the politicos all over the world have their own htmlgiants as well. that aside, if you want a literary connection, this guy’s poetry is apparently being bandied about through the middle east right now, especially in tunisia, egypt, yemen… (according to the nytimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/world/middleeast/30arab.html)

      from one of his poems ‘To the Tyrants of the World’ (taken from: http://themovingsilent.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/abu-al-qasim-al-shabi-the-poet-of-the-tunisia-and-egyptian-revolution/)

      Hey you, the unfair tyrants…
      You the lovers of the darkness…
      You the enemies of life…
      You’ve made fun of innocent people’s wounds; and your palm covered with their blood
      You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence and growing seeds of sadness in their land

      also^3, it’s a good idea for writers to generally know what’s going on in the world, if only to be more aware of how different your own life, environment and experiences can be radically different from others, that is, other humans. though don’t even get me started on the congo thing again… sheesh.

  48. zusya

      ‘turning off the internet’ in america would work just about as well as one day suddenly deciding to ban all firearms and then expecting everyone to sulk on over to the police station to hand them in. some of the bigger, dickish ISPs (comcast, i’m looking at you) would probably comply, but i can’t think of reason why anyone would even want to other than for, like, the bad kind of revolution where we end up living in The Handmaid’s Tale.

  49. phmadore

      Meanwhile, in America, the senate reconsiders a bill to shut off the internet and members of the house with murky affiliations to the hate mongers in Uganda seek to re-define gov’t-funded abortion as being only for cases of “forcible rape” (although there is no legal definition of such on the federal books).

      There are those of us who wouldn’t be so bothered if the whole shithouse just collapsed. We really never had much stake in it anyways.

  50. Sean

      I assume you wrote this from Area 51?

  51. phmadore

      And what about Oaxaca? And Burma? Tibet? Iran? Greece?

      It goes much deeper than Egypt. The media spectacle grows and grows with each year, but real results are getting thinner and thinner. If you really want to do some good, become a doctor and move to Chiapas, where they’ve successfully kept both the government and the cartels away for 17 years.

      “The revolution will not be televised.” What do you think he meant by that, genius idiot that he was? This is what he was talking about. About who’s really in control of the media. As soon as the media, or the internet, or your cell phone, stop serving the slumbering status quo, they are revoked because they no longer server their purpose.

      But that’s enough politics for me for one day. I have work to do.

  52. phmadore


  53. Sean

      Well, guns and the internet are not the same. You have to come get my guns, physically, and by definition I am armed. I can hide away my guns. I can buy them illegally and without any trace to me, easily.

      I don’t have that same control with my Internet. I don’t have that anonymity. I can’t make my own internet. I don’t have the reins. You can cut my internet. Wasn’t the internet a military invention (sorry, Al Gore)? I mean I think it can be easily taken away. I’d be more shocked if it could not be.

  54. phmadore
  55. zusya

      i could be wrong about this, but from what i do understand, most of the net’s main root DNS servers (the, like, designated nodes required to keep the net up and running as an interconnected web of computers) are indeed mostly located in america.

      but let’s say that the US govt does decide to off the internet (despite the devastating effects doing so would have on the country’s day-to-day economy), the way the net is set up to work (the way DARPA designed it) is so if one computer blips out, another automatically steps up to fill whatever role the blipped out one was doing. the military wanted a contiguous system that simply couldn’t be shut unless you nuked the whole planet over, or something.

      basically, if all the root servers in the US get their plugs pulled, comps in Europe (or elsewhere) could be quickly configured to take their places.

      what happened in egypt was that the government told its ISPs (Internet Service Providers, all mostly State-owned in egypt, from what i understand) to stop providing service to its customers for all web traffic outside country. some people in egypt were still getting access to sites abroad, however, via proxy and VPN services (Tor is one of the more famous ones), which is whole other fascinating topic unto itself: e-dissent in country’s with repressive net policies.

      sorry about the long response, but as an interesting aside, once the egypt protests starting happening, chinese net censors blocked searches for “Egypt” on its version of twitter, Weibo (twitter is blocked in china, though still used by a small number of people via proxys and vpns), basically so chinese net users wouldn’t get any funny ideas about, you know, hitting the streets when you get angry about not having food, a job or a place to live.

  56. zusya

      i forgot to add: like ALL of the ISPs aren’t State-owned in the US, and not all of them are big ass corps like comcast, and a lot of them are run by, like, libertarian nerds. guys/gals like those receive a fax from the Fed that says: “ALL YOUR NETS BELONG TO US. SHUT DOWN THE INTERNET!” they’re more liable to pee on it/light it on fire than take it seriously.

  57. lily hoang

      I’m not criticizing any individual, on HTML or otherwise. I was stating an opinion, a trend I’ve noticed (maybe “trend” is too strong of a word). I don’t think HTML Giant is ONLY about style, nor do I think it’s ONLY about profit or promotion. Whereas I can empathize with your frustration, it seems misdirected.

      There’s nothing wrong with focusing on aesthetics. There’s nothing wrong with one’s aesthetics being her politic. It is – in fact – a strong political statement. But for me – and for me only – it’s not enough anymore, especially with everything (including the things on your list below) happening around me. Most of the time, I’m a stick-my-head-in-the-sand and/or I-teach-as-my-activism kind of person.

  58. lily hoang

      I’m pretty skeptical of Americans who move down to Chiapas to join the revolution. Esp. white Americans. Go ahead: call me an jerk. I’d probably deserve it.

  59. phmadore
  60. phmadore

      I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it, either. I just want to make sure that we’re all clear: HTMLGiant, as a near editorial policy, does not care about the repressed homosexuals of Uganda, does not care about the uprising in Egypt, etc. I think that expecting it to care will only lead to disappointment. It’s good at what it does and what it does care about, HTMLGiant is, but asking more of it (esp. with the recent call for “collective activities,” which I think is ironic being how many likewise activities they have willfully marginalized over the years) seems naive at best.

  61. phmadore

      A magazine in France set up a dial-up service for Egypt. All someone needs is an old-school phone line (copper only), an old-school modem, and the ability to call France, and they can upload reports and photos and whatever to the internet at large. Something tells me no one’s using that connectivity for porn.

  62. phmadore

      For my next trick, I will scour the web for every time Roxane Gay has said “I absolutely agree” and amalgamate these quotes into a single paragraph or, length demanding, document. It will be amazing the number of things she absolutely agrees with.

  63. aaron b

      >I dont think this is true.

      But… it is true. As Lily said, I’ll echo that I think I’ve seen Egypt mentioned on my facebook homepage maybe twice. Not saying good or bad or anything (I’m certainly not saying anything about it), but a lack of talk def. exists.

  64. Roxane

      Your preoccupation with me would be flattering if it weren’t so disturbing.

  65. phmadore

      I absolutely agree.

  66. Sean

      This is fascinating. But I don’t quite see how the Egyptian system goes down in 20 minutes. Wouldn’t there be redundancy to keep it up? Couldn’t the U.S. have kept it up and running?

  67. Trey

      from what I understood it isn’t that the internet itself there was taken down, it’s that the service providers were told to cut off service, and did so. may be wrong though.

  68. Sean

      Ah, I see.

  69. NLY

      I think it’s rather limited to view ‘writers’ as apoliticized–look around, what in our world isn’t desperately trying to de-politicize itself? To say ‘writers care less’ doesn’t seem to me sufficient.

  70. NLY

      I suppose one way to think about it would be this: the last time Americans blindly cheered and supported a rebellion against an oppressive regime in Egypt, they got the one that’s being rebelled against now. I would much prefer cautious hope and careful observation.

  71. Amber Sparks

      Thank you, Lily. We’re citizens of the world and while we don’t have to discuss Egypt or any other political situation on writing blogs, we should at least have a vague idea of what’s going on in the world. It’s not just writers–Americans are a particularly ignorant and isolationist lot, by virtue of having been the center of the universe for a long time. But as China and India grow and we shrink (only natural, not bad) we’re not going to be the center of the universe fir much longer. We’re going to have to start learning more about the world just like they’ve had to learn about us. We don’t have to be experts, but ignorance of basic ideas about other countries is just embarrassing.

  72. Amber Sparks

      Very well said, Tim. Yes. Which is why I write what I do below; slactivism is just as embarrassing as ignorance–as people who consider ourselves thinkers we ought to be thinking about the world around us in a constructive and helpful way, not just posting pics or turning our statuses green in solidarity. I’m not sure I feel people need to write about it on writing sites–as somebody who works in politics it sometimes makes me cringe when I see writers post really dumb political things on writing sites and it’s clear they have no idea what they’re talking about. But I like the idea of a true discussion, which is what I think Lily meant.

  73. SCS

      Yes. We “like” causes on facebook, we sign petitions about Uganda’s political stance on homosexuality online, we wear bracelets and have tough bumper stickers. We need to get to know what people are talking about. Sympathy, empathy and solidarity are so (obviously) different. Can I, American from America ever be in solidarity with the Egyptians? The Iranian students? Unless I spend years there, unless I really, sincerely, get to know the people and the situation, the answer is no. Awareness is good because it guilts people into throwing money at causes, like the way NPR is doing right now. Awareness is only as good as the checks that are written. Damn the cocktail conversation.

  74. Janey Smith

      Lily? I care about Egypt. And I believe we should care about Egypt. And not just Egypt. There many places in the world I care about and believe we should care about also. As a certain kind of writer, I tend to believe that my stuff is political through and through. However, I believe it is difficult to write fiction that is overtly political. So, I don’t attempt it so much. I tend work on figuring out ways to keep writing. However, let me say this: if I had more star power, I’d probably be fucking things up a lot more, I mean, in a bigger way. I don’t know. I tend to fuck things up a lot now. But nobody really notices. I wish we did a revolution in the USA. No more capitalism. That would be cool.

  75. deadgod

      apolitical attitude : political effect of action :: Flat Earth theory : sphericity of Earth

  76. Cole Anders

      I’ve been glued to Al Jazeera’s live reporting since Friday, too. And before that, to the blogs and newspapers that report the London student protests, and the protests in Greece…

      This is a deeply apolitical country. So there’s that.

      I don’t have a blog; I’m not even a writer anymore. I’m not very exercised about why lit blogs don’t carry up-to-the-minute commentary. But… uh… there’s something strange about how imperturbable our world is, something that’s maybe structural or anyway not ascribable to individuals.

      Today, I hardly wanted to leave the house, and when I did, I couldn’t resist asking two strangers when they’d last gotten an update about Egypt: Could they tell me, had Mubarak resigned? Had there been reprisals against the demonstrators (or, further reprisals)? Seriously, I asked a woman sitting next to my at a cafe and a guy who sold me a movie ticket. She had an iPhone; he could’ve had a radio or something… They didn’t know anything. I stood and watched the Davis Square news feed for minutes on end (it’s like the Times Square one, scrolling LED lights of headlines) but, it, too, told me nothing about Egypt.

      So but my point is not some cute or insulting analogy, some division between the aware and the obtuse. The people who write this blog aren’t obtuse (and they’ve been put in a difficult position by the fact that the first HTML post about Egypt reprimands all others to come for not having been written yet).

      But it’s… it’s dumbfounding, that Egypt doesn’t appear to matter more. In Empire, in 2000, Hardt and Negri wrote about the fact that contemporary radical struggles are intense but “incommunicable,” in the sense that they don’t set off a chain of repetitions, no new internationalism. They mention Tienanmen, the LA riots in 92, Chiapas, the strikes in France in 95… all of them flashed up, people all over the world took notice, but the struggles themselves were not replicated. (Not like the decolonization movements of the 50s and 60s.) “Perhaps precisely because these struggles [LA, Chiapas, etc] are incommunicable and thus blocked from traveling horizontally… they are forced instead to leap vertically and touch immediately on a global level.”

      OK so maybe this doesn’t even apply to Egypt, since the mass demonstrations in Egypt are part of a chain of revolutions in Tunisia and elsewhere. Wow, I wish I could put the incoherence of this comment down to drinking.

      There’s an obtuseness to the US that participates in an obtuseness of Empire, an apparent imperturbability that is nonetheless accompanied by a real

  77. Cole Anders

      OK so that just collapsed. I’d delete it if I could.

  78. Madison Langston
  79. Madison Langston

      It seems weird that people think Egypt isn’t ‘about them.’ I’m wondering how people are suddenly escaping from politics…?

  80. Fouad A.

      Again and again on this thread I read people saying they mustn’t speak out (or others mustn’t speak out) on events in Egypt because they “don’t know anything about Egypt” etc etc. Well, your government gives 1.3 billion dollars a year to the Mubarak government. I’d say you are responsible for learning something about Egypt, instead of just excusing yourself for your shameful ignorance.

  81. zusya

      that works too. modems: pre-installed for a reason! use in case of catastrophe..

  82. zusya
  83. c2k

      Yes. Links are a fine way for blogger-twitterer-social-networkers to share news articles. I notice in the latest Rumpus round-up, however, that most of your links link to non-US news orgs. This might be a more-interesting discussion here. Yesterday I happened to catch national CBS News TV coverage of the events and the report was downright embarrassing in its stupidity and lack of anaylsis and even basic observation.

  84. Stephen Elliott

      This is an important topic and I’m going to get deeper into it in today’s Rumpus email. Thanks for bringing it up here.

  85. MFBomb

      Why would anyone believe half of the shit writers say on forums or in interviews?

  86. deadgod


      (I do think that the allure of magical explanations is a different issue than defiant “apolitical”ity, or the issue of the strategically impregnable virtue of enforced “humility” (‘don’t say anything unless you know everything’).)

  87. deadgod


      (I do think that the allure of magical explanations is a different issue than defiant “apolitical”ity, or the issue of the strategically impregnable virtue of enforced “humility” (‘don’t say anything unless you know everything’).)

  88. deadgod


      (I do think that the allure of magical explanations is a different issue than defiant “apolitical”ity, or the issue of the strategically impregnable virtue of enforced “humility” (‘don’t say anything unless you know everything’).)

  89. William Owen

      A great muddled confusion. And every answer for and against and there isn’t a single one right, nor wrong. But one idea I keep returning to is that perhaps writing about these events now may be important because the people living these events are too busy to do so for themselves.

  90. William Owen

      A great muddled confusion. And every answer for and against and there isn’t a single one right, nor wrong. But one idea I keep returning to is that perhaps writing about these events now may be important because the people living these events are too busy to do so for themselves.

  91. William Owen

      A great muddled confusion. And every answer for and against and there isn’t a single one right, nor wrong. But one idea I keep returning to is that perhaps writing about these events now may be important because the people living these events are too busy to do so for themselves.

  92. deadgod

      Perhaps this American could be excused for resorting to the World Bank’s figures for Egypt’s GDP in 2009: $US 188.413 billion. $ 1.3 billion is .69 % of that number. It looks terrible that the tear-gas canisters say “MADE IN USA”, but blaming America exclusively and completely for Egyptian corruption, political violence, and misgovernment will only fly in circumstances where it’s rational to blame something called “America” for everything.

  93. deadgod

      I don’t think it’s “completely fair”, lily. Your blogicle was clearly asking, of your corner of the literary world, the questions of reaction to Egyptian turmoil (specifically) and pretensions to being apolitical (in general).

      “Self-important” and “self-righteous” are exactly how one can “see” assertions that others’ concerns are fake, poses designed merely to impress. In response, ‘cast the beam from your own eye’ would be closer to “completely fair”, eh?

      Spouting off in confused, poorly informed rants ‘fer this and agin that’? Well, hell – nobody wants to ramble or be ignorant. But to be told: ‘be “humble”‘?? Fuck that.

  94. Daniel Bailey

      i made a joke on facebook about how the reason it took approximately 24 hours for a photo i uploaded from my phone to make it onto facebook is that i sent it from egypt. but whatever.

      i honestly don’t understand why anyone would expect writers to be able to or need to comment on this vs. anyone else’s ability or “necessity” to comment on this. i’m not egyptian. i don’t know enough about it. i do my own. writers will write about what they want. expecting or feeling weird about a perceived apolitical bent from writers seems like holding writers to some imagined ideal. let’s not do that.

  95. zusya

      any excuse, really, to share the goodness that is hollow earth theory.. that said, i don’t think i could’ve put what you said any better myself.

  96. Brian Spears

      I did that deliberately, in part because the US coverage was woeful, but mostly because the US coverage was very US-centric. How does this affect us, that sort of thing. Well, at this point, who the fuck really cares how it’s affecting the US? The fact is, it’s not affecting us much at all, and the outcome won’t do much to us either, despite the fever-dreams of people like Mike Huckabee and John Bolton. That’s changed a little in the latest roundup, but I’m still planning on doing as many links from people on the ground as I can.

  97. Peter Jurmu

      Inform yourself, go visit, & write. Or don’t. It’s what you can do well, not moral obligation to throw yourself at wherever in the world change is happening. The radius of political change differs between writers, but a constant is the writing deserved by events–which how you know that is a function of your ability and empathy. There is no prescriptive guideline besides doing whatever you decide to do as well as you can. If that decision means writing about political or social change in Egypt, or Tunesia, or Greece, or Sudan, or the United States, or any other country, then write well and don’t make an ass out of yourself. I can’t think of a reasonable way to make it more complicated than that.

  98. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      I think of the shit you criticize, your criticisms of Roxane are the most lacking in content. Roxane has too many “friends,” Roxane is too agreeable. Attacking people for being nice is a great way to make everybody meaner.

  99. Daniel

      What would The Bangles do?

  100. Sean


  101. Ryan Call

      For those interested in the context, Blake’s quotation comes from an interview that ran in the wake of the frenzied comments that surrounded the We Are Champion gender controversy or whatever. The interview covers politics, art, and internet-bullying, among other things.http://htmlgiant.com/behind-th…/http://htmlgiant.com/behind-th…/

  102. R. Ridge

      Gregory Corso: What do you say about political conflicts?

      William Burroughs: Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations. If conflicts arise you may be sure that certain powers intend to keep this conflict under operation since they hope to profit from the situation. To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.

      Gregory Corso: Who manipulates the cloth?

      William Burroughs: Death

      Allen Ginsberg: What is death?

      William Burroughs: A gimmick. It’s the time-birth-death gimmick. Can’t go on much longer, too many people are wising up.


  103. c2k

      Well, I presumed you were choosing your links deliberately; I’d be surprised if you were not. I agree that US coverage is woeful, and my post above was meant as a compliment, although I don’t think looking at news abroad from a US perspective is necessarily wrong. What we see, generally, as usual, from US news orgs (and this is perhaps what you meant) is current events explained from the viewpoint of the official US govt line – not from Huckabee or Bolton, who are no longer in government, but the current administration. This can be problematic, in a so-called democracy, particularly when it seems the US might be on the wrong side of democracy – again. To ignore the political implications for the US, however, if that’s what you’re suggesting, would also be misguided for any news org – because US meddling is rampant throughout the region. Remember (although if you’re not watching mainstream US media, you have not been reminded of this lately) Egypt (read: Mubarak) is a “US ally” – although no further explanation about what this might actually mean is offered. Here an historical perspective might help immensely in explaining the situation, It’s lacking, of course, in US domestic media coverage, from what I can tell, and it is very likely why thinking people look to the Guardian, Al-J etc etc for news coverage (info and explanatory).

  104. Fouad A.

      Who was “blaming America for everything”? I simply asserted that you shouldn’t be as ignorant about what your country is up to, as many in this thread have rather complacently confessed to being. But you DO seem eager to get your country off the hook, like a typical white 1st-worlder.

  105. letters journal
  106. deadgod

      Who said that you would be so simplistic as “[to] blam[e] America for everything”?? You simply asserted that posters posting their reluctance to post about Egypt are – did you mean “probably”? – “excusing [themselves] of [their] shameful ignorance” of their government’s (annual) “gi[ft]” of $1.3 billion to “Mubarak’s government”. – and maybe they are.

      I didn’t and wouldn’t guess why you didn’t mention that any “ignorance” of the skimpiness of America’s bribe to “Mubarak’s government” relative to Egypt’s economy would be likewise “shameful”.

      Nor would I guess why you haven’t mentioned that this bribe has been small because acting in concert with America’s foreign policy has been so much in the interest of what Egypt’s political-economic and military elite have been up to.

      Are you eager to get Americans and Egyptians off the hook? I don’t know!

      I simply asserted the veiled conditional implication that if someone blamed America for everything, well, only then could they blame “America” completely for Egypt’s current turmoil.

      You “seem”, given your employment of it, to be the sort who doesn’t understand why ad hominem arguments are necessarily fallacious, but I’m sure I doubt that you turn to this kind of argument in a way “typical” of your color and numbered-world status, whatever they are.

  107. Guestagain

      People rarely act outside of self interest and what is happening in Egypt is mostly an abstraction, for now. If gas goes to $12 a gallon, which can happen, we might see more commentary or examination of the democratic movement in Egypt from affected western writers, but not on the Orwell or Solzhenitsyn level, writers in concentration camps would be required. It is also very un-cool to care (see Burroughs below) and most writing in 2011, for whatever reason, still takes it cue from the dusty beats and postmodernism so it’s par for the course in that paradigm to yawn and write off true democratic revolution in the Arab world as “merely another surface manifestation”. Who can side up with a social and political movement antecedent from the Magna Carta, Enlightenment, and Renaissance while maintaining the required detached intellectual cool, even if these shifts created the model of the free individual enabling that posture? Also, the romantic notion that the public network cannot be shutoff or otherwise controlled by the managers of the grid is just that. Your every click and character keyed is going into a database somewhere. As Scott McNelly of Sun systems said, “There is no privacy, get over it.” The freedom of the internet is plastic, invented, a thing purposefully made apparent.

  108. letters journal


      I wrote this comment for a discussion about Egypt elsewhere. If it is okay, I will repost it here, realizing that the audience and discussion here is different from where I posted it:

      Capitalism is a global system and functions in the same way everywhere in the world (there are local differences in statecraft, ideologies, etcetera, but these are not static and change all the time, while the fundamental economic relations remain unchanged). So, ‘we’ can say with confidence that all so-called ‘solutions’ put forward by religious and political organizations, by trade unions and NGOs, even those claiming to be radical or putting forward militant slogans – all of these ‘solutions’ are going to leave the fundamental economic relations unchanged.

      We can go back in time and look at people cheerleading the Iranian revolution or the Zimbabwean anti-colonial struggle or the ANC in South Africa or the Sandinistas or whatever political fight. In all cases there is an understandable urge to side with the underdog. But what was the outcome? Why are radicals so quick to patriotically cheer on the latest thing, when we should be saying: “Brothers and sisters in Yemen and Egypt and Algeria and Tunisia, watch out for the states in waiting, watch out for the ‘popular resistance hero’. Remember Mugabe. Remember Khomeini. The difference between a dictator and a democrat is only at the ballot box – the factory and the slum will not change. The ‘imprisoned opposition leaders’ of today will be the jailers of tomorrow. Stay strong. You will need miracles, and G-d is not watching. All the proposed solutions are lies!”

      Perhaps it is too soon to say this (Mubarak may hold on), but the real enemy of those revolting in Northern Africa is the political opposition that is preparing to take power. And when I say ‘take power’, I mean that in the most general way.

      If/when a revolt appears where ‘we’ are, ‘we’ cannot fall prey to the indecency of waving flags and banners in support of whatever is happening. Our task is to pee on the parade. To say “No! Push further! The old world is not behind you yet!” To point out the policeman with red and black flags. To maintain our principles and avoid urgency, even when the situation appears to be moving quickly.

      Remember every international revolt you’ve been excited about in your life. Look at what happened after each of them. What happened May, 1969? What happened to your enthusiasm? All of the doors that appeared to be open lead nowhere or were, in retrospect, closed. The freedom fighters joined or became the government. The political situation was turned upside down, the old leaders jailed, the elections became free (at least for one election!), and yet… wage labor, value production, the unending circulation of commodities and money, the reproduction of classes, all of this carried on without pause. Why?

      Does anyone believe the situation in North Africa is a revolt against capitalism? If you do, do you think this revolt could lead to communism (or ‘anarchy’ or whatever you want to say)? If you say no to either question, what exactly are you supporting?

  109. letters journal

      “People are choosing. People are taking control.”

      What does this mean? It’s all very unclear. This is not the same as 1979, but certainly people were “choosing” and “taking control” then as well. And that was a nightmare.

  110. MFBomb

      I think people often confuse two separate issues:

      1) When writing, most writers want to be free to create; this means not having to write with some intellectual rubric in mind. “Good sense is an artist’s worst enemy”–Picasso.

      2) However, writers should immerse themselves in politics and culture. Duh. This only makes sense–writers need to take in as much of the world as possible, and to pay attention to it–from global issues to the way the woman at the cash register ringing up your items today spoke with a funny accent or dialect (am I the only one who gets annoyed at how “political” is often restricted to large-scale global issues, while the “local” is considered somehow less “political”?) Anyway, if writers simply pay attention–in a sincere and meaningful way–political knowledge will come out on its own organically in the work.

      Does anyone really want to read a story that had a political point to prove before the writer began writing it? Would anyone even trust that sincerity of such writing? How many fiction writers can work this way without creating utterly dull, and lifeless work? Why not write a thesis-driven essay if you have a “point to prove”?

      Poetry might be a different story, in some cases.

  111. lily hoang

      No, you shouldn’t be sending blank checks, but self-flagellating over how (white/privileged/whatever) guilty we as Americans are doesn’t do shit either… other than give us some sad looking scars.

      I don’t think “you need to spend years” someplace in order to feel solidarity with others’ experiences. In fact, I think that’s just plain silly logic. (I haven’t had my morning coffee yet.)

  112. lily hoang

      I need to read comments more carefully! Slacktivism!?! Thank you, TJY!

  113. lily hoang

      I’m all for cautious hope and careful observation too. I am not in the streets chanting: Revolution! or Anarchism! I am not rolling over cars or anything of the sort. I am in my apartment, drinking morning coffee, preparing to do a crossword puzzle, like I do every morning. And yes, I too have read my history.

  114. lily hoang

      People choosing and people taking control is exactly what it sounds like.

      People choosing and taking control does not mean utopia is around the corner. (I’m not fool.) Fuck: it doesn’t even mean heterotopia is around the corner. It means: People are taking control.

      What happens next is not in our control. This whole uprising was not in our control. Yes, Egypt could become more democratic. Egypt could become more socialist. In an almost impossible situation, Egypt could become communalist. (What a possibility if it happened!) Or: they could become even more conservative.

      It is not the revolution that makes me refresh the Al Jazeera webpage every minute. It’s what happens next. Because yes, as I said above, I too have read history. I’ve read about Egypt, and I sure as fuck have read about Tiananmen Square.

  115. lily hoang

      It’s unremarkably easy to disconnect from politics. I have to be honest: I will go months at a time without reading the news. Then, I read every source I can for the next few months. Then, I get overwhelmed and back and forth etc.

  116. lily hoang

      Thanks, Madison! Of your two scenarios, I’m not sure which one is worse: People don’t know or people don’t want to besmudge their online persona?

  117. lily hoang

      Thanks, zusya!

  118. lily hoang

      Thank you, Amber! The States make me sad sometimes, especially in your comment. Maybe Canada will keep me forever?

  119. lily hoang

      Janey! You fucking things up – star or not – could be the start to our revolution!

  120. lily hoang

      Hi Cole: I’m glad you brought in Hardt & Negri, though as you’ve pointed out, there is a horizontal movement to Egypt: it’s just not as sexy as Tienanmen or LA or Chiapas or France. No, it’s Jordan and Yemen, etc.

      You are right. The first post about Egypt should NOT have been a post tsk-tsk-ing others for not having posted, but I really wasn’t speaking about HTML Giant. Not at all. I was chastizing my Facebook feed, which continued to tell me quippy lines about butterflies and loneliness. I was angry, maybe unjustifiably. (Please note: I had PLENTY of stuff on Egypt in my feed, but only 2-3 of my writer-friends had mentioned anything about it.) I guess I just wanted some kind of reaction other than life-as-usual-here’s-a-beautiful-line-please-trip-all-over-it-telling-me-how-great-i-am. (Actually, I’m complaining about just one person here. Most of my FB feed is not like this.)

      Here’s the good news, Cole: my response to you is much less coherent than yr original comment (which made sense to me).

  121. lily hoang

      Again: I’m not saying we should write political fiction. I don’t write political fiction. (Maybe stuff with a feminist bent to it, sure, but not with any agenda.) I was talking about blogs and social networking sites. There is a huge difference.

      There is also a difference between personal aesthetics your personal politic v. politics as your personal politic. There are a lot of writers – myself included, sometimes – who believe that aesthetics as politic is politically engaged enough. And who am I to say what is “politically engaged enough”? I’m no one. This was a post about my own general frustration. I’m not encouraging people to go write a story about Egypt. I probably wouldn’t want to read it. (Just being honest here.) I just want people to care about what’s happening around them, as opposed to caring only about what’s happening “between their ears,” so to speak.

      My frustration is that most of the time, I am the very person I am criticizing, and that, my friend, is why I launch the criticism at all. (So full of herself, that Lily Hoang.)

  122. Justin Sirois

      I’ve been writing about it for a while… or at least posting. I’m hoping Haneen Alshujairy and her family are ok as the food shortages get worse and neighborhoods form impromptu militias. Cairo is starting to resemble Baghdad when they left in 2003.

  123. Tweets that mention An apolitical writer? | HTMLGIANT -- Topsy.com

      […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Diamond, Rebecca Bates. Rebecca Bates said: @imjasondiamond I think Html Giant deleted our comments on the post about apolitical writers: http://bit.ly/iaVr8j […]

  124. MFBomb

      I understand; I’m just taking apart what it really means when writers–mainly fiction writers and poets–say that they’re “apolitical” or that “aesthetics are enough.” While this post is about bloggers, we hear the same thing all the time from fiction writers and poets. It’s merely a way for these writers to protect their own creative space and freedom, which makes sense, which is why we should always take what writers say about their own processes with a grain of salt.

  125. NLY

      Yeah, that’s what I meant. Totally.

  126. deadgod

      Not completely sure, but I think, by “1979″, letters journal means Iran – the deposition of the Shah and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Tehran – , not Tiananmen Square (which was a decade later).

      She or he is referring, as I understand her/him, to the situation in which many (most (?), as I’ve read) of the protesters – much (most (?)) of the “Revolution” – , in Iran (and in France) were not religiously extremely conservative; many (most?) of the “revolutionaries” were one or another variety of socialist/communist secularists — “revolutionaries” badly deceived by the Ayatollah and his circle. (Perhaps they thought they were the users – using the religious authorities – , which proved, for those in that case, to have been an egregious self-deception.)

      – the point being that some “people” are always “choosing” and “taking control” . . .

  127. deadgod

      – it – an appetite for news-digestion – does take a high tolerance for, what, gossip, which is what analysis-begging data generally gets ground into in the cheeseburger machine of mass media.

  128. deadgod

      oh – I like the arabic writing — I will laugh if it says something unkind about ‘me’, or about the presumption of speaking-as-though-listened-to

  129. lily hoang

      haha, yes, thank you deadgod. i got my dates all wrong. (there goes any semblance of credibility i had!) Iran 1979, Tiananmen Square 1989. Lordy me.

  130. deadgod


      When I posted “- it – […]”, between my blogonym and “in reply to […]” in the comment header, there was, instead of “0 minutes ago”, a “0” with Arabic script on either side.

  131. deadgod

      – a tiny mishap.

      I just wanted to hang on to (what I think was) letters journal’s point: ‘Power to the people’?? Which people? In Egypt, clitoridectomists are “people”.

      (My solution?: Education to the people. – and, for slow learners – like me – , about ten lifetimes for it to sink in. ‘Optimism of the will; pessimism of the intellect.’)

      Some “credibility” attaches to getting details right – remembering that nobody never gets a detail wrong – , but more (to me, anyway) hangs on the reasonableness of a conversation partner. Don’t worry about a haha moment. And – again, my use-with-caution perspective – don’t sweat “semblance”. Again: ‘appearance’ to which people?

  132. deadgod

      – a tiny mishap.

      I just wanted to hang on to (what I think was) letters journal’s point: ‘Power to the people’?? Which people? In Egypt, clitoridectomists are “people”.

      (My solution?: Education to the people. – and, for slow learners – like me – , about ten lifetimes for it to sink in. ‘Optimism of the will; pessimism of the intellect.’)

      Some “credibility” attaches to getting details right – remembering that nobody never gets a detail wrong – , but more (to me, anyway) hangs on the reasonableness of a conversation partner. Don’t worry about a haha moment. And – again, my use-with-caution perspective – don’t sweat “semblance”. Again: ‘appearance’ to which people?

  133. c2k

      بصوت عال أيضا

  134. deadgod


      –Richard M. Nixon

  135. c2k

      The universal netspeak phrase lol spelled out in Arabic. I think.


  136. deadgod

      Gitcher mitts offn ma Bible.

      Chuck ‘Preacher Feature’ Colson

  137. Corey

      Revolution within the delimitations of democracy should be about you, Mike. If another gun-death in the US means more to you, and is about you, then in the West we truly are the politically anemic (or dully-fundamental) people the world see us as. Sure, I hear the nay-sayers caution is speaking about it, I feel my own silence on it is my rapture, waiting to see what’ll happen next. And, I’m fully aware Al Jazeera has a lot more to say on it than I do. What to say as the event speaks for itself? However, we certainly should be sharing our reflections.

  138. c2k

      At the very end of one’s life, it is not what one believed but rather what one FELT, markedly felt.

      –Robert U. Woodward-sans-Bernstein

  139. David

      Hi Amy. I definitely agree with you, Mike and Roxane that withdrawing to become versed in the dimensions of an issue is important. And it becomes especially urgent when an event from an area you aren’t immersed in breaks overhead. Reading one’s way into the events is really important. But I think I find that impulse toward independence of thought, toward one’s considered opinion over all, also really troublesome, actually, and definitely not the reflective reaction it feels to be. Let me be clear: I’m not saying that kneejerk self-congratulatory expressions of one’s immediate observations of an event as great and incisive analyses of its greater meaning isn’t an obnoxious general feature of Web 2.0 and our general commentariat of self-preening roosters. It is. But two points need to be made. First, raising awareness about an issue is different from responding to an event like this: in this sense, slacktivism doesn’t properly describe the cultural response to something like this at all. Online agitation or simple registration of feeling here is more akin to the way news was spread by word-of-mouth recitation in revolutionary Paris through networked assemblies of the people than it is a
      ‘campaign’ of any sort. And second, the commendable desire to withdraw and learn more also requires some kind of commitment if it’s not to be purely about reserving judgement, rather than making judgement.

      In response to the French Revolution, an event which, politically, in its radical phase, he hardly approved of, Kant pointed out, all the same, whatever position one staked out in regard to it, whether one felt it went too far or was revolutionary only in its radical stage, the thing is the enthusiasm that the event generated was itself communicative of the world-historical nature of the thing as something to which persons would have no option but from here on in to elaborate, control, undermine, or explode. His point is that one doesn’t need to be fully cognizant or on board with each facet or strand of the revolution to know that it’s revolutionary. Moreover, his argument also is that to a large degree the implications of an event is not made only on the scene but in its reception from afar, by how we become swept up in it as observers. Why there is, then, everywhere this general signposting of the thoughts and feelings of people following Egypt without even knowing Mubarak’s name until six days ago, I’d argue, is precisely because it incites a sort of universalistic endorsement that doesn’t need the angling of the commentariat at this stage to be understood in all its universal appeal: the slogans, the general involvement of the population, the excitement across the Arab world, the sight of the crowds battling the police and calling upon the army to join them is a universal contextual speech we all understand. Nobody is going to learn more about the situation in Egypt by hearing that you’re addicted to al-Jazeera but they will learn that you’re enthused to be witness to the event, in its atmosphere, breathing it.

      When Kant argued that the importance of events like the French Revolution actually weren’t only made there on the spot in the close attention of real time, per se, but by the agitation they stirred elsewhere, of distant opinion recognizing this had changed things in some way, and pontificating or articulating or being stirred to respond, I think he implied something else: that the real counterrevolutionary response was not to oppose the event or to betray or ruin it (conservatism) but to try and diminsh the importance of the event in its enthusing qualities (liberal rationalism). So while I understand the personal decision not to register one’s attention on social media or to make a blog post saying “WOW GO EGYPT” from the standpoint of it not servicing any explicative end, I’d also defend that activity as it is not at all frivolous or indulgent or even slacktivism because, like Iran in 2009, like Wikileaks last year, there’s a responsiveness to the event as a thing to be moved by. The last thing it’s about right now for all these excited people is just “stability” and “a democratic transition” as it is for the liberal mandarins in the Obama administration’s foreign policy establishment.

      In that sense, actually, I feel like the instruction to one’s self not to impose one’s uninformed involvement on the event, not to speak before one ‘knows more’, is a sort of effort not to be changed by it, perversely: it becomes a promise to learn more aboyt it, to be right about the facts of the event, to master it, then decide whether it’s worthy of my “support”, rather than to subject one’s self right now to the moment of its developing truth and find out more about that truth because of one’s commitment. In many respects, I’d argue, it’s a desire, above all, not to be wrong, not to belatedly find out one was supporting an event that turns bad in some way (the Iranian revolution, for instance), to keep a clean track record with one’s self. Mind you, I’m not criticising you here at all: not that I needed to know anyway that something like this would move you, but your enthusiasm is obvious also from your conversation with the Tunisian waiter that you mention. And I’m not saying, of course, that the trye correct response to Egypt is to update your Facebook status or that to not do so is to not respond to it with all due enthusiasm. What I’m talking about are the rationalizations that will allow us to lapse into cynicism before cynicism is warranted, to buy our philosophical knowingness about ‘the way it’ll all turn out’ on the cheap and not to be stirred as we should be.

      Look at Mike’s logic: he syas, “What we should do is *read.* And even when we’re done reading, we’ll probably end up where we began, more or less: confused, uncertain, and hoping, vaguely, for the best.” So why even bother reading? To be more informatively confused? Let’s acknowledge now that if that’s the best this thing inspires in us then we’ll just end up skipping reading more about it in any enthused depth all together. Then when the next event arrives, it occasions the same response: I don’t know enough about this to endorse it and so on. When does one know enough, whether one reads or not, seeing as it leaves you back in the same place, “more or less”? The only way to not end up where you began, then, is to respond now, in our unknowing, and let that guide the reason for our reading later. We might decide we were wrong but better that than deciding we were too concerned with being right not to venture past our the conclusion that all we can know about something like this is our humble confusion. Because, as Mike goes on: “I think humility requires us to acknowledge we can’t be sure what the best outcome would even look like, precisely — at least those of us who don’t know much about the region.” Humility here sounds virtuous but even the Egyptians don’t have a clear idea what the best outcome would look like in all its embroidered, bureaucratic detail: so we’re right alongside them, despite the fact we aren’t versed in the potential players in their political context, the resonances and nuances and vectors, and are webbed with all sorts of fuzzy notions (like seeing the Muslim Brotherhood as Bad News). The point, thereby, isn’t that we need to know what to hope for if our hope with them on their behalf is to mean anything; rather, joining in the general global feeling is joining Egyptians not in their uncertainty or confusion (they know what they want: Mubarak out, free elections, the military out of politics, civil and religious freedoms) but in their movement toward an unspecified freedom they’re in the process of specifying and the sublime righteousness of their right to do that. We should allow ourselves to affirm the global significance of their actions, whatever they might mean, and we should feel enthusiasm so that it will stir consequences not just there but in ourselves. We should let Egypt be about all of us too.

  140. phmadore

      Surely you meant May, 1968.

      I promise you that the number of people reading your words who would a) like to see a better world or b) benefit directly from a change to the structure of society or c) would do anything besides cower in fear at the prospect of the new world is far dwarfed to the number of people on the opposite side of the aforementioned. A number of these people actively benefit from hierarchy in their daily lives, and the consumerist nature of western literature has even given some of them a great deal of success.

      I’m saying that you’re not preaching to the choir, and while that may not be a criticism, it may be letting you know that you’re wasting your time here.

  141. R. Ridge

      Obey the cloth.

  142. Guestagain

      Mubarak holding the cloth in this case. Don’t worry, ElBaraedi is likely to be assassinated soon enough and the Arab world can remain the 12th century, contemporary writers can remain in the 1960s, everybody comfortable, nobody inconvenienced, except for the people of Egypt.

  143. NLY

      Came across this yesterday:

      Auden wrote that ‘art is a product of history, not a cause’: ‘it does not re-enter history as an effective agent’. Though this formulation is preferable to ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’, I would phrase it differently. A poem re-enters history in a multitude of circumstances, and it may indeed do so as an effective agent, or hostage. Nonetheless, whatever historical effects it may produce, or be made to produce, are as collusive with good and ill or as absurd as those of any other historical entity. Yet the poem — the true poem, the poem that has got within its judgement the condition of its judgement — is not exhausted by the uses to which it is put; it is alienated from its existence as historical event. This intolerable condition, rejected, may lead a poet to a political aesthetics; embraced, to an apolitical one; these twin betrayals — Yeats’s ‘Three Songs to the One Burden’ on the one hand and his ‘On being asked for a War Poem’ or the late ‘Politics’ on the other — haunt modernist poetics.

      Geoffrey Hill.

      It’s a balance we approach only from the extremes, anymore.

  144. gustavo rivera

      we should care about egypt because it was started by educated bloggers. change can occur, but the current crew of writers avoid confrontation and propagate passivity as acceptance. acceptance is good but passivity is lame.

  145. To Write As a Woman Is Political | HTMLGIANT

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