Hanukkah begins on the evening of Sunday, December 2, and continues for eight nights and days. One candle is lit on the first night, with a candle added each night. Light increases.
Every story has something hidden. What is concealed is the hidden light.
Reb Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810)
The Hanukkah Guest
On the first night of Hanukkah, a poor man, who lived alone, chanted the Hanukkah blessings and lit the Hanukkah candle. He gazed at the candle for a long moment, and then there was a knock at the door. When he opened it, he saw a stranger standing there, and he invited him in. They began to discuss things, as people do, and the guest asked the man how he supported himself. The man explained that he spent his days studying Torah, and that he was supported by others, and didn’t have an income of his own. After a while, their talk became more intimate, and the man told the guest that he was striving to reach a higher level of holiness. The guest suggested that they study Torah together. And when the man discovered how profound were the guest’s insights, he started to wonder if he were a human being or an angel. He began to address the guest as Rabbi.
Time flew by, and the man felt as if he had learned more in that one night than in all the other years he had studied. All at once the guest said that he had to leave, and the man asked him how far he should accompany him. The guest replied, “Past the door.” So the man followed the guest out the door, and the guest embraced him, as if to say goodbye, but then he began to fly, with the man clinging to him. The man was shivering, and when the guest saw this, he gave him a garment that not only warmed him, but, as soon as he put it on, he found himself back in his house, seated at the table, enjoying a fine meal. At the same time, he saw that he was flying.
The guest brought him to a valley between two mountains. There he found a book with illustrations of vessels, and inside the vessels there were letters. And the man understood that with those letters it was possible to create new vessels. The man was taken with a powerful desire to study that book. But when he looked up for an instant, he found himself back in his house. Then, when he turned back to the book, he found himself in the valley once more. The guest, whoever he was, was gone. The man, feeling confident, decided to climb up the mountain. When he reached the summit, he saw a golden tree with golden branches. From the branches hung vessels like those illustrated in the book. The man wanted to pick one of those vessels, as one picks fruit from a tree, but as soon as he reached for one, he found himself back in his house, and there was a knock at the door. He opened the door and saw it was the mysterious guest, and he pleaded with him to come in. The guest replied, “I don’t have time, for I am on my way to you.” The man was perplexed, and asked the guest to explain what he meant. The guest said, “When you agreed to accompany me beyond the door, I gave your neshamah, your highest earthly soul, a garment from Paradise. Now, when you bring your thoughts to Paradise, you are there, on that holy mountain. But when your thoughts return to this world, you will find yourself here once again.” And that is how it remained for the rest of that man’s life, and the story has still not come to an end.
A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav by Howard Schwartz
Dean Chamberlain is an extraordinary photographic artist. He works in a technique known as light painting, using hand-held lights to illuminate and color a scene photographed in long exposure. While versions of the technique have been known and used since the early days of photography, Dean was the first artist to work exclusively in the medium.
Dean Chamberlain is the father of light painting photography and has been capturing photographs since 1967. It was his passion for photography that led him to the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1974 to pursue a fine art degree. During Dean’s time at Rochester in 1977 he discovered light painting photography. Dean was the first person to coin the term “Light Painting” for his open shutter long exposure photographic technique. He has worked with his unique art form ever since in his various works. Dean has created stunning portraits of well-known individuals such as David Bowie and Paul McCartney. He has also directed numerous music videos. Chamberlain’s work has appeared in publications such as Esquire, Vanity Fair and the Washington Post. He has received an MTV breakthrough award for directing music videos for Arcadia (Missing), Paul McCartney (This One) and Duran Duran (All She Wants Is).
Along with light painting rock stars, landscapes and other subjects, Dean created a unique series called Elder Psychedelic Pioneers. This includes Timothy Leary, Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin, and others—many of whom have now passed on.
Imagine it is 2024. Trump is finishing out his second term as president. Eight years.
In a detailed and complex way, we may wonder what the lives of people in America and the world have been like during those years, day after day, thanks to his presidency. Wondering what we might do, what we might have done, to enjoy a different outcome.
But there is simple wondering too. Even at this point in 2018, it is hard to avoid seeing his face every day. Which led me to wonder: what face will we be looking at every day in 2024?
It turns out that a graphic designer at the Express newspaper in the UK has already helped us imagine that: “The intriguing image [see above] has been meticulously constructed by a professional graphic design artist, who specialises in biometric techniques to age the human face.”
The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent Van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.
Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 Van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.
The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.
For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited “America” — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.
But the exhibit was over and the toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post.
The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” wrote Spector, who has been critical of Trump. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”
Sometime during the news today, the word surreal came to mind. Again.
Andre Breton, one of the founders of the Surrealist art movement in the 1920s, defined it this way:
SURREALISM, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought’s dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.
I think that now and then I may be turning to surrealist art and literature—not to explain things, just because it seems like an appropriate response to now. To things that turn up in the news, for example.
Anyway, surrealism may find its way into these posts once in a while. A work of art, a bit of literature.
Above you will see Juan Miro’s Potato (1928). When you recognize that as possibly/certainly a potato/the potato/no potato/one potato/many potatoes/the idea of potato, you will be on your way to understanding what is going on. In the news, for example. Probably better than me.
This weekend I experienced Patti Smith performing her iconic first album Horses (1975), along with other songs. She’s been on tour with this for a while, so you can read plenty of reviews elsewhere, as you can read about the significance of Horses and Patti Smith in the evolution of modern pop music.
If this was going to be a review, I’d mention her gifts as a writer, poet, musician, performer, woman, and human being, and how her infectious energy and presence aren’t just wondrous for an artist who is now 70—it’s wondrous for anybody.
I’d mention how awesomely cool she is, write about her on-stage patter. Some of it planned (after the first songs of the album, she showed the album jacket and explained that she had just performed Side A, and now we were going to flip to Side B, put it on the turntable, put the arm down, put the needle in the groove). Some of it spontaneous (a fan threw a T-shirt on stage, which she thought was a Jerry Seinfeld shirt, leading her to wonder why anyone would do that, tell her only Jerry Seinfeld personal story, and then realize that without her glasses on, she hadn’t seen that it was a picture of Jerry Garcia, leading her to tell her only personal story about Garcia, which was funny.)
But this isn’t a review. I just want to say that it was one of the best concerts I have ever been to and I’ve been to plenty of great ones. Here’s why:
Patti Smith is authentic, committed, open-hearted, honest, gentle, wild, loving and fierce. When you add that to her talent, it is totally inspiring. Still thinking about it days later inspiring. Not that most of us are or can be quite that talented, or as authentic, committed, open-hearted, honest, gentle, wild, loving or fierce, but that we can aspire to be all that. And when we aspire, we can be artists too.
Patti Smith also believes, performs and preaches the power of rock and roll, not a gospel as current as it once was, but no less true. At the end of the concert, she strapped on her electric guitar, and played some crazy, Hendrix-style riffs, wailing to heaven. And then she held up her guitar: This is a weapon, she said, a weapon of love.
I recently posted about Poetry as Insurgent Art. Now I want to add advertising to that.
There are going to be a number of Super Bowl ads this weekend that take indirect but clear aim at current events, including anit-immigrant sentiment and the Muslim travel ban. It now appears that one of the world’s biggest ad agencies, Leo Burnett, is joining the cause. Adweek reports:
Leo Burnett has a simple message of solidarity to share with people impacted by the U.S. travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries. Beginning today, when you visit the Leo Burnett website you’ll be redirected to a new site, BurnettLeo.com http://burnettleo.com/ .
A video on the new site explains that while English is read from left to right, Arabic is read from right to left. Regardless of how we read something, the advertising agency wants people to know that it stands in support of everyone and cares deeply about the values of humanity, bravery and kindness.
One of the most remarkable popular uprisings of the 1960s—possibly of the modern era—started in Paris in May 1968. It would ignite and inspire the entire nation, lead to a national general strike, and almost bring down the French government of Charles de Gaulle. It also captured the imagination of the world.
The movement did die down after a few months. But it left an indelible mark on the way cultural, social and political movements can combine and be conducted. In his Foreword to When Poetry Ruled the Streets: The Events of May 1968, Douglas Kellner writes:
In the historical memory of the Left, the Events of May ’68 in France have attained mythic proportion. The student uprising, workers’ strikes and factory occupations that erupted during a brief but explosive period in 1968 instilled fear in the hearts of ruling powers everywhere. They inspired those in revolt everywhere with the faith that social upheaval is possible and that spontaneous insurgency can overcome the force of circumstances. For an all-too-brief moment, imagination seized power, the impossible was demanded, and poetry and spontaneity ruled the streets.
Of course, the revolutionary energies of the May Events were soon exhausted, order was restored, and since then the significance of May ’68 has been passionately debated. Did the uprising reveal the exhaustion and bankruptcy of the existing political system and parties, or the immaturity and undisciplined anarchy of the forces in revolt? Did the Events indicate the possibility of fundamental change, or prove that the established system can absorb all forms of opposition and contestation? Did May ’68 signal the autonomy of cultural and social revolution, or demonstrate once again that the old economic and political forces still control the system and can resist all change?…
May ’68 demonstrates as well that spontaneous action can erupt quickly and surprisingly, that it can provide alternatives to standard politics, and that a new politics is practical and necessary. The initial inability of established Left political parties and unions to support the students and workers suggests the irrelevancy of politics as usual and the need to go outside of ordinary political channels and institutions to spark significant contestation and change. The Events also suggest the primacy of social and cultural revolution, of the need to change individuals, social relations, and culture as a prelude to political and systemic transformation. The total nature of the rebellion reflects the totalizing domination of the system which must itself be transformed if significant change is to take place….
For a brief moment, the spirit of 1968 appeared to promise fundamental change in France and in other places throughout the world. To counter historical forgetting, to keep memory and hope alive let us now rethink and relive these experiences, find connections with our contemporary situation, and strive to create our own alternative modes of thought and action.
One vital legacy of May 1968 are the posters, graffiti and poetry of the movement. A gallery of posters can be found here. About these posters, Justin McGuirk of the Guardian writes:
While their fellow students engaged in pitched battles with the police and millions of workers went on general strike, students at the École des Beaux Arts in 1968 occupied the printing studios and converted them into the uprising’s very own propaganda machine. Many of the resulting posters have become icons of political design.
Be young and shut up (Charles de Gaulle silencing a protester)
We are all undesirables
We are the power
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is celebrated as a poet, as founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco, and as a pioneer publisher of cutting-edge poets of the 1950s and 1960s (sometimes identified as Beat poets), most famously Allen Ginsberg. Ever a cultural and social activist, Ferlinghetti published in 2007 a tiny book called Poetry as Insurgent Art:
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….
Woody Guthrie, godfather of modern protest music, was another artist who believed in the insurgent power of poetry and song. In 1941, he wrote and peformed Talking Hitler’s Head Off Blues. He followed that by adorning his guitar with this now iconic message, beloved by musical radicals everywhere: THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.
So the question arises for every creator. Can a poem be an instrument of insurgency? Can a guitar and song actually talk Hitler’s head off and kill fascists?
The targets of reactionary politics and authoritarian rule are your body, your mind and your heart. When any of the three are damaged, thoughtful and sincere resistance and progress are more difficult. When all three are healthy and vital and hopeful, all is possible. Ferlinghetti’s poetry and Guthrie’s fascist killing guitar and thousands of other creations can inspire and embolden us to sing and believe and wisely strategize together, like a chorus, like an army. If we listen and act.