In a bedroom she shared with her three siblings in Elmhurst, Queens, 9-year-old Sahar Muradi snuggled up to her mom. Sensing her daughter’s pensive mood, her mother asked, “Is there something on your mind?” Then her mom reached for the magical red book. Sahar remembers, “I can picture it—the book was leather-bound, frayed from overuse. It was small and fit perfectly into my little hands.” This was Hafez’s Divan, the collected works of a revered fourteenth-century poet from Iran, where great poets are considered seers. Hafez’s sobriquet or nickname is lesān-al-ḡayb, or The Tongue of the Unseen. Continue reading “Consulting Hafez on the Trump Administration”→
“There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary,” writes Earl Shorris, “but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.”
Over 6,500 languages—with at least that many words for butterflies—are spoken in our fragile world. By the end of the century more than half will disappear. Our languages are melting like the icecaps. Continue reading “Treasure Language”→
On October 2016, at the meetings of the American Folklore Society in Miami, I ran into Wolfgang Mieder, a professor of German and Folklore at the University of Vermont and the world’s leading expert on proverbs. He mentioned to me, as we shook our heads over the forthcoming election, that both candidates failed to take advantage of metaphors and colorful language in their campaigns. “Hillary Clinton,” he noted, “makes far more use of proverbs and metaphors in her books (It Takes a Village) than in her speeches.” He lamented that when she was asked about Obamacare, for instance, she didn’t have the proverbial sense to say, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” “On the other hand,” he said, “Donald Trump, with his limited vocabulary, really does appear to speak basically without metaphors or proverbial phrases.”
Many great presidents, he pointed out, have provided the populace with enduring metaphors (Lincoln’s “A house divided against itself can not stand”) as well as proverbs and turns of phrase (Theodore Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick”). So what are we to make of a president with little or no feeling for poetry, language, or art? Metaphors connect ideas—and sometimes people—through language. We find we need poetry at occasions like weddings, where words can create union; funerals, where they ease separation—and politics, where they span divides. Instead of calling on language and poetry to connect, Trump instead traffics in power relations. Power is hierarchical, a vertical line that severs other patterns, connections, and meanings. Trump’s linguistic creativity has been limited to insults and name-calling—Pocahontas, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Jeb “Low Energy” Bush. Continue reading “Donald and the Arts”→
A story. Once upon a time in the old country, there was a tiny town in a wine-producing region of Eastern Europe. The villagers in this region heard that a revered and renowned rabbi was planning to visit their town on a grand tour. So they called a meeting and said, “We must host a great celebration in the rabbi’s honor.”
Then one of the villagers suggested, “Since we all make wine, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a wine festival where the rabbi could taste the very best of our wine?”
And then someone countered, “But each family only makes a little wine each year. A big celebration would use up a family’s entire supply of wine for a year.”
So they devised a plan. They put a big oak barrel in the center of town, and every week, just after sundown on Shabbat, every household was to bring a small pitcher of red wine and pour it into the cask. Then, by the end of the months, they would have a full cask.
If everyone thought the way that Mendel and Rebecca did, what would that mean for the protests? Perhaps that’s why the election turned out the way it did—so many people stayed home.
In one of the village families, Mendel went home and said to his wife Rebecca, “Listen, you know that everyone is going to be bringing wine, and we’re not a rich family. There’s going to be so much wine in that one cask, ours certainly will make no difference. Why don’t we just fill our pitcher up with water? When I take it to the barrel—I’ll pour it right at the lip—I guarantee you that no one will notice.” And that’s what he did, every week. Continue reading “Art and Protest: A Jewish Folktale”→
“You have fifteen minutes to look around. After that I’m going for coffee with my colleagues, and besides, God save me if someone found out I let a foreigner down here!” These words—spoken to me on a September afternoon in 2006 by an archivist in Bosnia-Herzegovina—marked the moment my book began.
I was in one of the archive’s basement storage depots. Many of the light bulbs were burned out, while a handful of others flickered. The impatient archivist handed me a flashlight, and pointed me down a dark set of shelves. “I think what you’re looking for might be down there,” she yelled just before exiting the depot. I stood in silence for a moment, and then switched on the flashlight. After ten minutes of straining to read the handwriting on filthy, uncatalogued stacks of blue folders, my eyes froze on these words: “Sites of Mass Executions.” Continue reading “Archives in Bosnia in Minutes and Hours”→
A dear friend and alum of Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program, Jeff Hadler, succumbed to adrenal carcinoma in January. Jeff studied Indonesian history at Cornell in the 1990s, where he worked with Takashi Shiraishi, David Wyatt, Ben Anderson, and Paul Gellert. After graduating from Cornell, Jeff was immediately hired by the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies. They not only tenured him, but also appointed him in 2014 as chair of the department.
In conversations with Jeff after doctors informed him of the unfathomable diagnosis, he talked about his two most vital concerns. He spoke with sweet conviction about his love for his family—his wife, Kumi; his daughters, Maia and Noe; and his parents and sister—and how fortunate he was to be able to tell them now, in the moment, how crucial they all were to him. He also talked about his scholarly legacy, especially within Indonesia. Jeff’s first book, the Benda Award-winning Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism(Cornell University Press, 2008), was translated into Indonesian and published in 2010. He felt the book, especially after it was translated, had made and would continue to make a difference to Indonesians. It was crucial to him that his scholarship had a positive impact in the country that he had first visited in high school, and that later had become the dedicated focus of his academic career. Continue reading “Jeffrey Alan Hadler, 27 March 1968 – 11 January 2017”→
“We all have to face this thing sometime,” my wife’s father, Lucas Dargan, told me around the time he turned ninety-nine.
Six months later, he found himself facing precisely that “thing.” A retired forester who planted over a million trees in his lifetime, he had split wood every morning until two years before.
Tonight, he lay in a hospital bed at the McCleod hospital in Florence, South Carolina, unable to properly swallow or get out of bed unassisted. Family members took turns staying overnight with him, and this night was my turn. At one point, I thought he was sleeping. I was working on my computer, when I heard lines from a poem coming from the other side of the room:
Jim Lance joined Cornell University Press this year as senior acquiring editor for anthropology and social science. A graduate of Haverford College, he earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in African history from Stanford University. Lance came to Cornell from Kumarian Press, where he served as editor and publisher, acquiring books in comparative politics, international development, and globalization. Prior to that, he served as the African Studies Editor for Greenwood-Heinemann.
Sage House: Your academic background was initially in international relations and African history. Can you tell us what led you to your new role as acquiring editor in anthropology at Cornell University Press?
Jim Lance: Academia is a very critical profession. In publishing, although it’s necessarily critical, by and large the goal is to be supportive [of the author], and to make something. I really like that. For me, personally, the academy felt too hermetic, with people talking to each other and not talking to a broader community. And among university presses Cornell is definitely geared not only for the academic community, but toward other purposes and missions.
SH: What’s the broader purpose or mission of Cornell University Press as you see it?
JL: I think there’s a definite sense of social justice at Cornell. ILR Press is obviously the most visible presence, but Roger Haydon’s books, many of them, have a component that asks, “What does this mean for society as a whole?” Michael [McGandy]’s and certainly Kitty [Liu]’s books as well. There’s a sense that these books are bigger than the book itself; they’re about what kind of society we want to live in. Continue reading ““Beyond the Academy”: An Interview with Senior Anthropology Editor Jim Lance”→
The Witness, directed and produced by James Solomon, William Genovese, and Melissa Jacobson, with Trish Govoni as director of photography, is an evocative tribute to Kitty Genovese, one of America’s most infamous and enduring crime victims. It is an intense, surprising and at times disturbing account of her brother Bill’s eleven-year search to learn the truth about the cold night in 1964 when 28-year-old Kitty was fatally assaulted near her home in Kew Gardens, Queens. It also is a poignant portrait of a man on a mission to make peace with a horrible family trauma that became an international symbol of apathy.
Bill is a thoughtful and soft-spoken man in his late 60s who conducts his search from his wheelchair, an indirect result of his response to a cultural call to action that his sister’s death immediately generated. After joining the Marines a few years later, he lost his legs in an explosion while leading his troops on a dangerous mission in Vietnam. “But I had people who helped me,” he says in the film. “I survived.” Continue reading “Witnessing “The Witness” – A Film Review by Marcia Gallo”→
An Assessment Panel assessing the response of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the Ebola crisis concluded, in no uncertain terms, that, “The Ebola crisis . . . exposed organizational failings in the functioning of the WHO,” and called for important organizational reforms. While insightful, the analysis looks at the current situation with little attention to the historical context leading to existing deficiencies. Without understanding the sources of the current problems, it might be hard to fix them.
The WHO’s organizational difficulties today are not inherent or necessary aspects of this or any other international organization. Indeed, during most of its existence, the WHO was one of the more respected UN agencies. Instead, the WHO was thwarted by policy changes implemented over the past twenty years, which have undermined its operational capabilities and neglected poor countries’ health care infrastructure. The consequences of those changes today—lack of international alertness and a dire situation of health clinics in many countries—is why Ebola has turned into an international emergency, which could and should have been prevented. Continue reading “Nitsan Chorev Reflects on the “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel””→