Archive for 2011

My Year in Translation

2011 has been an amazing year. It took me to my grandmother’s birthplace in Poland, to memories of Hurricane Katrina, and to classrooms at Columbia University and Queens College of the City University of New York. It saw my translation of a book by Robert Walser go into production, and another one follow close behind. It found me publishing my first book of translated poems and studying the language of the 19th century so as to find the words to tell a Swiss horror story about a spider.

Because of my involvement with Occupy Wall Street beginning in late September, I have spent less time writing Translationista than used to be my habit; meanwhile I’ve been writing about OWS for the PEN American Center and the blog Occupy | Decolonize | Liberate.

As readers of Translationista know, I helped found the Occupy Wall Street Translation Working Group, which participates in OWS outreach, providing translations into many different languages of OWS documents on the official website. We are always looking for new members; you can find more information about us here. We also translate articles for the foreign-language editions of the Occupied Wall Street Journal – individual articles are posted on the OWSJ website.

My work with OWS has been inspiring, heartening, thrilling. I have seen so many people from so many different backgrounds and points of view come together at our General Assemblies to talk about some of the largest problems facing our society – the things that keep so many in this wealthy country from prospering. Whether the issue is education, housing, healthcare, jobs, you name it – most of the answers can be found by following the money trail; and the laws of the United States are currently set up in such a way as to disproportionately favor the wealthy and allow large corporations to exert undue influence over our political process, causing these inequities to persist. Change is desperately needed, and despite all his lovely campaign promises, Barack Obama has not been doing much of anything to end the plutocracy and bring us back to democracy again. He turns out to be just as indebted to the big banks and corporations as the Republicans we voted out of office when we elected him. In fact, a study by the Sunlight Foundation published this October revealed that Obama has received more contributions from Wall Street than any other president in the last 20 years, including George W. Bush. It is time for the people to stand up and demand government accountability; and this is just what has been happening all fall across the country. Don’t believe the media reports declaring the Occupy movement dead. The newspapers making these claims are governed by the very corporate interests our movement threatens. In fact, Occupy is alive and well, and our work continues, despite the attacks – including, here in New York, the violent and illegal eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in November.

In the words of Robert Walser, “When a year stops, another instantly commences, as if one were turning the page.” Thanks and hugs to all of you who read their way through 2011 along with me. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

A Robert Walser Christmas

I’ve fallen behind with blogging on Translationista this fall because of my involvement with Occupy Wall Street (about which you can find me guest-blogging these days at Occupy | Decolonize | Liberate), but I did want to drop in and say a few things this Christmas Day, on the 55th anniversary of Robert Walser’s death. This time last year I was celebrating Walser’s work with the Robert Walser Society of Western Massachusetts, a Walser fan club made up largely of young poets associated with Flying Object, a store, press and literature think tank in Hadley, Massachusetts. The Society commemorates Walser’s death each year with a series of readings and a walk through the woods – a lovely ritual. This year I am celebrating more quietly, by feeling happy and excited about the latest of my posthumous collaborations with Walser, Berlin Stories, which will officially be published in late January. My advance author’s copy just arrived, and it is beautiful. This slim collection of stories (the selection was made by Jochen Greven, Walser’s long-time German editor) consists primarily of work Walser wrote in Berlin about Berlin, along with a handful of stories written later in which Walser looks back on the seven years he spent in the German capital early in his career. He moved to Berlin to become a writer, just as young American writers still move to New York (or at least Brooklyn), and these stories are vibrant with the youthful enthusiasm with which he wrote his first three novels and participated in the life of the metropolis.

Berlin Stories also reprints two stories translated by Christopher Middleton and one by Harriet Watts, as well as several translated by someone I hesitate to call me since I was still in my early 20s when Masquerade and Other Stories first appeared. I couldn’t resist revising my own work, so anyone who’s curious to know what sorts of translation decisions I made then and regret now will find various examples thereof.

For those in NYC, a launch party for the book will be held in early February, and I am hoping to have a prominent cultural historian with special expertise in the culture of technology join me in presenting Walser’s book, since so many of these stories are devoted to technological advances at the turn of the twentieth century and the mark they made on daily life. Watch this space for details.

And I’m feeling grateful to Francine Prose – whose most recent novel, My New American Life, I really loved when I read it last year. In the New York Times earlier this week, she cited my translation of Robert Walser’s Microscripts as her favorite book to give as a gift. It’s true that this volume – which contains art-quality full-size facsimiles of some of the tiny manuscripts on which Walser composed his late work – is a beautiful object as well as containing some of his strangest and most challenging work. Berlin Stories and Microscripts bookend Walser’s literary career, making them a great pair of collections to have on your bookshelf. Of course, I’m not exactly impartial…

Anna Moschovakis on the Allure of the Adjective

Friday night’s Bridge was a particularly rich one, with challenging, in-depth exchanges between writer/translators Lydia Davis and Anna Moschovakis on questions of style, tone, revision, voice, and even teaching (both said, in effect, that when you teach students to translate, what you’re basically doing is helping them hone their skills as writers – which is also how I see it). Davis spoke in detail about her revision process, which sometimes continues even after a book sees print if her editors allow her to make changes for subsequent editions, as happened with her most recent book, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. In particular, she toned down her use of “would” to render Flaubert’s characteristic use of the verb form imparfait/imperfect (as in: “In the morning, she would do this, and then she would do that”); in the most recent edition, Davis uses the “would” forms only once or twice to set the context, and then shifts to the less obtrusive simple past form (“then she did that”). Davis finds – and in this I agree with her – that it’s easier to experience a book when it’s in print, as opposed to in manuscript form; I too invariably wind up making changes to all my translations at the page proof stage, for the same reason.

I was eager to write about this Bridge, but when I sat down to do so, I saw I had an e-mail from Anna Moschovakis, who’d been thinking more about the discussions meanwhile, and voila: a beautiful guest blog. Here’s what Anna had to say:

Last night, I told a lie from a panel stage, and I’m here to set it right.

That’s not exactly true, either. Here’s what actually happened:

It was at the Bridge translation reading series, and I was paired with Lydia Davis for the evening, which caused a certain amount of intimidation even though I’ve known Lydia for over a decade and she is not the sort to set out to intimidate.

I read from my translation of Albert Cossery’s The Jokers, and then Lydia read from—and eloquently spoke about—her translation of Madame Bovary. At the Q&A, the first question posed to me was about Cossery’s ample, exaggerated use of adjectives and adverbs, and whether I felt the need to tone it down for the English version.

I should have been expecting this question, since it is the one specifically translation-related issue brought up in reviews of Cossery’s work and in James Buchan’s introduction to The Jokers, in which he writes: “[Cossery’s] style depends for its effect on precise and outlandish adjectives, as in the description here of the terrace of the Globe Café. That is not the very best style in English, which likes verbs and nouns, and presents a challenge to his translator.”

So I should have been expecting the question, but I had nothing prepared to say. I stumbled a bit, and then I recalled that my book editor and I went through several drafts of the manuscript, during which it reduced itself in word-count by something like 10%. This was true. Then I found and read an example of one of Cossery’s sentences that included a small pile-up of “outlandish” adjectives and adverbs, and suggested that during the revision process I had reduced them in number in order to achieve the desired effect in English, explaining the choice with the idea that the translation needed to walk the same fine line between exaggerated ebullience and straight-up farce as did the original. But my explanation misrepresented what I’d actually done, and I’ll get to why in a minute.

The Q&A continued, and I only wish I could have peppered Lydia with questions myself; here was the country’s foremost translator of French—also my former teacher and the closest thing I have had to a translation mentor, although we hardly talked about translation when I studied writing with her for three summers at Bard—and I had a flood of questions that I didn’t have time to ask. But the audience asked good ones: about the influence of translation on writing and vice versa, about whether and when we consult prior translations of the text we’re working on, about how we handle any temptation to “correct” grammatical or other mistakes or perceived weaknesses in the original. Lydia shared specific examples from Madame Bovary to speak to many of these questions, and her responses were enlightening.

One audience member mentioned the forthcoming edition of Murakami’s complete works in English and the fact that the two volumes will be translated by two different hands, which she found disturbing. Lydia then got to talk about the recent edition of Proust, in which each of the seven volumes was given to a different translator, and she agreed that this may not be ideal, admitting that she’d heard from some sensitive readers that they found the subtle shifts in voice to be disturbing. I tend to support reading multiple translations of any one author, to triangulate as it were, and to be reminded that the translation is not identical to the original or its replacement, so I had found the idea of the multiply translated Proust to be brilliant. But that said, I have only read Lydia’s first volume, so my sensitivities as a reader have not had the chance to be affected by the transitions.

This question related to an earlier question, in which we were both asked whether we recognized our “voice” in our translations, and how we felt about that. Lydia and I seemed to agree that were we to recognize our own writer’s voice in a translation, we’d find it disturbing, but the idea that each translator brings his or her vocabulary to a translation, which can give it a certain relationship to the writer’s own work, seemed more accurate. I made a note to myself to be more vigilant about knowing my own vocabulary and how it affects my translations.

And that brings me back to Cossery’s adjectives.

Here is the short section I picked out on the fly as an example (I’ve bolded the adjectives and adverbs):

“Karim gave himself up to a feeling of delicious languor, while enjoying the voluptuous vision of his mistress from the night before getting dressed in the middle of the room. From the patronizing smile that played on his lips you would have thought he was observing a procession of dancers, lasciviously swaying their hips for his pleasure alone, instead of a poor creature (picked up on the street) whose modest charms no longer held a single secret for him. Karim’s languorous pose was meant to suggest an atmosphere of luxury and decadence, but in fact it hid the state of nervous tension that had been racking him since he woke up.”

I suggested that I had removed four or five additional “languorous”- type adjectives from this scene, in order to bring it down to a proportionally purple prose in English. What I was trying to address, I think, was the importance for me of getting the tone right in a translation, of making it sound right. What I probably should have said was that I didn’t particularly think about adjectives while I was translating—I just tried to get the translation right, nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, and all. I didn’t approach the challenge of translating Cossery as a challenge about adjectives, but a challenge about tone.

So when a few people came up to me after the panel to ask me how it felt to remove Cossery’s own adjectives from the book, I was surprised. Had I said that? Had I done that? First of all, on the translation-theory continuum between domestication (making the original sound more English) and foreignization (bringing a sense of foreignness to the English translation), I lean heavily toward the latter position. Second of all, I really didn’t remember if I’d removed a single adjective in The Jokers. I just remember that my second draft was shorter than my first; that my perspicuous editor suggested a leaner sentence on many occasions, and on many occasions I agreed; and that I struggled most of all to reproduce Cossery’s nimbly ironic tone.

So this morning, l’esprit de l’escalier sent me back to the original to see if, in fact, I had removed any adjectives from that passage I quoted. Here it is in the French:

“Tout en s’abandonnant à cette molle langueur, il semblait goûter un plaisir voluptueux à observer sa mâitresse d’une nuit, en train de s’habiller, debout au milieu de la chambre. Au sourire condescendant qui apparaissait par instants sur ses lèvres, on eût dit qu’une procession de bayadères, aux hanches ondoyantes et lascives, défilait devant ses yeux pour son délassement intime, et non une pauvre créature (ramassé la veille dans la rue) dont les charmes modestes n’avaient plus pour lui aucun secret. Cette ambiance de haut luxe, qu’il essayait de créer par son attitude alanguie et précieuse, cachait, à vrai dire, un état d’extrême tension, auquel il était soumis depuis son réveil.”

The French passage has 110 words; the English 111. So I actually added a word. I did drop some adjectives/adverbs (from 12 down to 8), but that was because I converted them to other parts of speech (“aux haunches ondoyantes et lascives” became “lasciviously swaying their hips”). And this discovery, more than a year after the book was published, finally made me understand what James Buchan and other commentators mean when they talk about Cossery’s adjectives. I’d been reading Buchan’s claim with the wrong emphasis: where I read “[Cossery’s] style depends for its effect on precise and outlandish adjectives,” I should have read “[Cossery’s] style depends for its effect on precise and outlandish adjectives.” The challenge he’s referring to isn’t about properly reproducing the effect of the outlandish adjectives. It’s about dealing with sentences in which so much of what happens is happening in that part of speech. My first draft left all the adjectives as adjectives, and what changed in the second draft, and with my editor’s notes, was that some of those adjectives were converted to nouns and verbs. Which, as Buchan points out, English likes. As my junior-high-school self might say: Duh.

And what of that reduction in word count from draft to draft? It’s actually something that happens with most translations I do from the French, but usually I work it out one or two drafts earlier than I did this time. And it’s not about adjectives, it’s about syntax: I often start by reproducing the French syntax while preserving the meaning in English, which adds words (and makes for some terrible English sentences). Then I go back and rewrite everything, and it takes as many drafts as it takes.

In hindsight, it’s tempting to wish I had retained just a few more of Cossery’s adjectival pile-ups, even at the expense of extra awkwardness in the English (I do like awkwardness), even if I’d had to find a way to defend them to those who favor “smooth” translations. And that brings me to the last point of the panel, the question of what advice we would give to students and beginning translators. What I’m doing here is what translators do, sometimes obsessively. It isn’t that I’ve turned on my own translation, or that I’m worried about having made mistakes or “wrong” choices. It’s just that translation is an endless process. It’s always best, if you can manage it, to build in a long waiting time between the first “final” draft and its publication, since the longer you sit with something, the more you’ll find to change (and in contrast to what can happen with one’s own work, these changes are often improvements). But once a translation is published, go back and look closely only at your own risk. Unless, of course, there’s going to be a second edition.

Thank you, Anna, for sharing these reflections!

Meanwhile in the World of Translation

It’s been difficult to concentrate on work these days with all the developments surrounding Occupy Wall Street and the issues connected with the NYPD’s destruction of the original encampment on Nov. 15. Now that the dust is clearing, the issues of free speech and public space are appearing in greater focus, as are the infringements of civil rights on the part of various public officials. Even the New York Times finally got around to deploring in print Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s violations of press freedoms in connection with the raid on Zuccotti Park, though they attribute them only to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (who is answerable to Bloomberg), as though Kelly had been acting independently. The press have been bullied and intimidated, and unfortunately most news organs have knuckled under and reported only the City’s official version of events. The National Lawyers Guild is working on this and related issues.

Having an encampment was important to OWS because the town square at Zuccotti Park was where protesters shared ideas and made plans, and it is also where others came to check out the movement and learn about the issues. I met a lot of out-of-town tourists wandering around down there. Now Zuccotti Park is fenced off and heavily policed, with private security guards performing illegal bag checks and refusing entry to a large number of people – including many who were regular participants in the movement from the start. All those who carry backpacks containing their possessions are denied entry to the park, and so occupiers who have been spending the night in the sleeping spaces generously provided by several local churches are now shut out of the regular planning meetings held at the park. It is also difficult for occupiers to locate the (now itinerant) stations where the Kitchen Working Group serves donated food to protesters. And so questions of logistics and bureaucracy take up energies once reserved only for the occupation’s real work of speaking truth to power. Bloomberg has been quite canny in attacking OWS’s infrastructure while pretending not to take issue with its principal tenets (ha). In fact he is fighting a war against the Occupy movement. He clearly thinks he can win via attrition warfare; I am hoping to see him proven wrong. There is a great deal of popular support for the movement, and as long as this support continues, OWS will be able to go on bringing its message to the people.

Meanwhile this has also been an eventful fall in the world of literary translation. I would like to draw your attention to three events in particular that will be taking place over the next week here in New York:

1. Tonight, the wonderful translation publishing house Archipelago Books will be hosting a party and benefit auction at Gasser Grunert Gallery, 524 West 19th Street. Archipelago has, quite incredibly, survived as a not-for-profit publisher for eight years now, during which time they have published over seventy translations from more than twenty languages. It’s a classy and simpatico operation. So why not attend their party and show some love? Food, wine and music, plus the chance to bid on an assortment of interesting donated items like rare books and art. Tix are $25 at the door, starting at 6:30 p.m. And when you’re done bidding on art, you can head up to Lincoln Center, where star composer Philip Glass will be joining Occupy Museums for a protest at 10:30 p.m. in solidarity with OWS. (In fact, I just got word in that Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed will be in attendance as well.)

2. Friday, Dec. 2: The amazing translation journal Telephone (which specializes in commissioning translations by many interesting hands of poems by a single author) will team up with the gallery EFA Project Space to host a launch event for their collaborative show: Telefone Sem Fio: Word-Things of Augusto de Campos Revisited. There will be a walk-through with artists speaking about their contributions to this unique project, and about the experience of approaching the works of Augusto de Campos. With Bibi Calderaro, Macgregor Card, Deric Carner, Brendan Fernandes, Rossana Martinez, Jennifer Schmidt, Dannielle Tegeder. EFA Project Space, 323 W. 39 St., 2nd Floor, 6:30pm.

3. Friday, Dec. 9: The Bridge Series is back, in one of its most stunning incarnations to date. Lydia Davis and Anna Moschovakis – both incredible writers as well as accomplished translators – will team up to read and speak about their translations from the French. This Bridge will be held at The Center for Fiction at the Mercantile Library. The space is sure to fill up fast, so I recommend you get there early to stake out a seat. The Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th Street (between Fifth & Madison), 6:00 p.m.

From a Square to a Cemetery

Recently, on a visit to Poland, I made a pilgrimage to the village where my maternal grandmother was born, Nowy Targ, 50 kilometers south of Cracow in the region known as Małopolska or Lesser Poland. The name “Nowy Targ” translates as “New Market,” and indeed this large village is where most of the region’s trading occurred, with local farmers bringing their produce to market and then spending the proceeds at the dry goods stalls and shops selling housewares. The Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of town resembles an idyllic little forest grove, and the one thing a visitor might remark about it is that there are so few graves to be seen here, only a few dozen, most of them missing their headstones. It seems an obvious case of a Jewish cemetery desecrated during the Holocaust, as so many were. But the cemetery at Nowy Targ harbors an even more terrible secret: Every inch of it is a mass grave. It is here that 2000 Jews from the Nowy Targ ghetto were driven together on August 30, 1942, shot, and buried where they lay. The headstones from the cemetery were removed and later used as paving material after the war.

All of this is unfathomable. Who carried out these murders? The victims’ neighbors? Did they personally know the people they were shooting? And even beyond the moral and emotional considerations, how was an operation of this scope even possible in so small a place? Were the victims marched to the cemetery in a grand procession? A few at a time? Were they forced to dig the mass graves in which they and their loved ones would be buried? It is all far too painful to think about. I am so grateful that my grandmother emigrated as a child, nearly three decades before this tragedy.

The number 2000 struck a very different chord in me as well, because on Oct. 14, 2011, not long before leaving for Poland, I had participated in a 6 a.m. gathering at Zuccotti Park, a.k.a. Liberty Square, in New York City. That morning, 2000 of us gathered in and around the park to protect the Occupy Wall Street encampment from forcible eviction by the New York Police Department. Two thousand people were enough to pack every foot of the square – which is about the same size as the Jewish cemetery in Nowy Targ – and create a tight ring around it. And our presence stopped the police; there were too many of us to arrest, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed down from his demand that we all stop protesting and leave. So now I can’t help wondering what would have happened in Nowy Targ that August day in 1942 if 2000 villagers had come to the cemetery to object to the murder of their neighbors. Perhaps the dissenters would have been killed as well. Perhaps the local population approved of murdering the region’s Jews. It’s hard to know, even though this was all not so terribly long ago, less than 70 years. The gray-haired Polish woman I saw raking leaves from the sidewalk in front of the cemetery was quite possibly old enough to remember that day. But she and I lacked a common language, so I could not ask.

In New York, the presence of 2000 dissenters on Oct. 14, 2011 made all the difference. But one month later
Mayor Bloomberg showed us how far he was willing to escalate the struggle to suppress the Occupy Wall Street protests. The eviction of protesters from Liberty Square on Nov. 15, 2011 was carried out violently, under cover of darkness, and under highly questionable circumstances, via an army of police officers in riot gear, armed and organized like paramilitary troops. In an attempt to protect himself and the New York Police Department from public scrutiny, Bloomberg ordered an illegal media blackout surrounding this event. News helicopters were grounded, and fully credentialed journalists were forcibly excluded from the area despite holding NYPD-issued permits, and beaten and arrested if they resisted this expulsion (which many did, since they had both a legal right and a professional duty to cross police barricades to report the story). Weapons employed against the peaceful protesters in the square – who had been asleep when the raid commenced – included pepper spray, tear gas, night sticks and bulldozers. Many were injured. A dog was killed when a tent was crushed despite the owner’s pleas that the creature be rescued. A park open to the public and filled with civilians became a war zone.

My question today is: How can we as a city accept a mayor and a police department that break the law and use violent force to prevent our fellow citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly? The Occupy Wall Street encampment was legal (which is why it was tolerated by city officials for two months); its violent clearing was illegal; the exclusion of the media was illegal; and the mayor’s defying the temporary restraining order issued by the New York State Supreme Court in the early hours of Nov 15, 2011 was illegal as well. (See my last post for details of these transgressions.)
Are you willing to accept violent and illegal activity on the part of those whose job it is to serve and protect you? Are you prepared to live under martial law?

The words “martial law” are generally associated with parts of the world in which citizens enjoy far fewer rights and freedoms than we do in the United States. But the loss of freedoms always starts small and escalates. If we accept the barring of journalists from places where news stories are unfolding, it’s only a small step to a government-controlled media. If we permit a mayor to disregard court orders, we invite him to impinge on our legally established civil rights in other ways as well. If you object to the erosion of your rights, it is time to speak out. There is strength in numbers. Call 311 and leave a message for the mayor; send a letter to your newspaper of choice; write your opinion in large letters on a piece of cardboard and show up for a rally; and make sure all your neighbors know what is going on in their own backyard. It is time to make our voices heard.

Who Has Rights?

Let’s be clear: Legitimate acts of governance are not carried out under cover of darkness with a media blackout.
photo credit ©Bryan Smith

It’s good to live in a country with a free press and elected officials who abide by the laws of the land and rule according to the will of the people. Lots of countries around the world do not have that. Some do. Some think they do. Here in the United States, for example, we used to have a much freer press than we do now. Yesterday’s events on the ground in New York City, notably the violent destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the middle of the night by the New York Police Department on orders from the mayor, followed by the overwhelming failure of the local and national news media to report on the actual issues surrounding the incident, makes it very clear that the news media in the United States are not nearly as free as most Americans assume. We as a society are in denial about the gradual erosion of our civil liberties.

Here are some inconvenient truths for you to consider:

1. The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, ordered the violent eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters to take place in the middle of the night, carried out by police in riot gear using pepper spray (and by some reports tear gas) to disable protesters. This is a protest whose legality city officials had previously acknowledged, which is why it had been allowed to remain in operation as a campsite for the previous two months.

2. Properly credentialed members of the press attempting to cover this story were arrested and in many cases driven away with physical violence by the NYPD.

3. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD violated a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court of the State of New York that was in effect between 8:00 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 15. This injunction prohibited the mayor and police from barring protesters or their possessions from Zuccotti Park.

And here are some details that you probably didn’t see on the news last night:

1a. The eviction was not peaceful. It was planned like a military engagement. Protesters were beaten, over 200 were arrested, any possessions they did not manage to gather in the few minutes’ time they were given were seized and probably destroyed. I met one man yesterday who said his dog was taken away from him. The entire infrastructure of the occupation (kitchen, 5500-volume library [UPDATE: here’s what become of that], media tent filled with electronic equipment, comfort station stocked with donated blankets, sweaters and underwear) quickly wound up in garbage trucks. The city claims that protesters wishing to reclaim their possessions can do so in the sanitation department’s offices over the next two days. I don’t assume much will be found there in salvageable condition. NY1 interviewed one young man yesterday who said his backpack – containing his computer and a change of clothes for a job interview this morning – was forcibly taken from him by police. My guess is that he’ll never see it again. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested, injured by a police officer, and held for 17 hours before being allowed to speak with his lawyer. He will be holding a press conference to discuss the incident today at noon. Most of those whose rights were violated are not in a position to hold press conferences.

1b. The eviction was part of a nationally coordinated effort on the part of local governments to suppress local Occupy protests at all costs. The mayor of Oakland has admitted this. Whether or not there has been additional coordination of these evictions by federal agencies is currently unclear.

2. Suppression of the Press is a serious matter, and you’d think people would be more concerned about this. News of the beating, arrest and shutting-out of reporters during the eviction was broadcast on CNN and NY1, but not linked on their websites. But there’s a brief mention of the issue in the New York Times, which I was surprised to see, since these days that paper has generally been reporting all the news Mike Bloomberg finds fit to print. The NYT said:

Reporters in the park were forced to leave. Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said it was for their safety. But many journalists said that they had been prevented from seeing the police take action in the park, and that they had been roughly handled by officers.

Last night NY1 featured a interview with reporters holding press credentials issued by the NYPD (including Lindsey Christ of NY1) who had been prevented by the NYPD from reporting on the story. The best coverage of the media blackout I’ve seen thus far is by the smaller local news site, and also on The Tech Herald. Cameraman Luke Rudkowski captured video footage of his own expulsion from the park (starting at minute 5:00), and photojournalist Graham Rayman of the Village Voice provides a blow-by-blow account of his nighttime encounter with the NYPD at Zuccotti Park. But even though the major media are not covering the blackout, make no mistake: this is a major story. For related coverage, see Truthout’s excellent reporting on the Occupy Wall Street movement in general as well as a number of stories in the Daily Kos.

3. The Mayor broke the law all day on Nov. 15 by defying the temporary restraining order issued by the State Supreme Court. Perhaps you would like to read the injunction he chose to violate? All right, here’s a copy. (Note that the restraining order was in effect from 8:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. “or as soon thereafter as counsel may be heard” – which was late afternoon). So how do you feel about having an elected official ignore a court order and use physical force to enforce its non-enforcement? In my opinion, elected officials who break the law should be asked to resign. I hereby call for Mayor Bloomberg’s resignation.

So now the future of the Occupy Wall Street encampment is in the hands of the heroic volunteer lawyers who will go to court to seek redress for the violations of law and civil liberties carried out yesterday. But Mayor Bloomberg no doubt has a great deal of influence over the decisions of the local court system, and he knew what he was doing when he created a “fact on the ground” in Zuccotti Park yesterday. Even though protesters do have a legal right to occupy this property (including with tents), what use is it to have rights when armed members of the local police force are standing in front of you demanding to search your bags and person for so-called restricted items (such as sleeping bags and tents)? Zuccotti Park, which the major news media are now telling us has been “reopened,” is currently surrounded by a fence, and anyone wishing to go inside must submit to a search. Will the people of New York continue to take the erosion of their freedoms lying down? I hope they will not, and fear they might.

Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street has developed a life independent of its physical campsite, and will clearly persist even if these violations of civil liberties continue. A National Day of Action has been called for tomorrow, November 17, in coordination with Occupy movements all over the world as well as local unions. Keep an eye on the official and unofficial OWS websites for details to come later today.
Oh, and Occupy Wall Street still has a large and active Translation Working Group. We have been translating the documents of the occupation into twenty-six languages (and counting). You can read many of these documents here.

From Tunis to Berlin

On Monday evening, just before leaving Europe to return to NYC, I stopped by Occupy Berlin one last time to see what had been going on in the week while I was in Poland. When I arrived with a pair of journalist/political scientist friends in tow, we had to look for a while to find the Asamblea in the dark – the lawn in front of the Reichstag is virtually unlit – but were tipped off by a bicycle adorned with a sign reading “The next spring is sure to come.” When we joined the group, I was surprised to hear that the Asamblea was being conducted in French, via a skillful simultaneous interpreter. It soon became clear that the crowd of 35 or so that had gathered for the Assembly included a contingent of young North Africans who were visiting Berlin as guests of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. These visitors, from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, were telling stories of the revolutions closer to home (some of them were key players in their countries’ protest movements) and offering suggestions to the Berlin occupiers.

One man from Morocco who introduced himself to me a bit later told me he had been surprised to find both the manner and the matter of the protests in Berlin so similar to what he’d experienced at home. At the same time, some of the questions asked during the Asemblea brought differences to light. At least twice, for example, North African visitors asked what the demands of Berlin’s Occupy were. Of course, the revolutions of the Arab Spring did come with demands: these protesters were out to depose leaders and topple governments. In New York, on the other hand, the absence of specific demands has repeatedly been cited as a strength, not a liability; lots of people think so, including Slavoj Žižek. My favorite quip about this, overheard on the Internet: “Hijackers make demands; movements get things moving.” It isn’t clear yet what the desiderata of the Berlin protesters will be, and whether or not actual demands will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the Occupy movement does appear to be encroaching on the German mainstream. Newspaper coverage is steadily increasing. I even found an article on politics and the economy in the Nov. 8 Berliner Zeitung that ended with its author, Harald Jähner, tipping his hat to the protesters: “The Occupy movement has so far managed to steer clear of the traditional thought patterns of the old Left and is fighting to save capitalism from capital. This would be doing our democracy quite a service indeed.”

As the Asamblea continued, there was a lot of talk about the encampment at Klosterstrasse 66 (on private property owned by a church somewhere in the hinterlands behind Alexanderplatz) and the working groups currently putting together the Berlin movement’s ideological backbone. Since the ones doing pretty much all the talking were a core group of loud and well-spoken men, one of the visitors, a Tunisian woman wearing a headscarf, spoke up to ask whether it was the custom in Berlin for only the men to talk. She pointed out that in her country, women had protested hard for the right to be heard, and she certainly expected women to have that right in Germany as well. After this, the interpreter (who had somehow wound up running the meeting, which was thus being conducted without the “progressive stack” generally in use at Berlin’s Asambleas) started recognizing more women to speak, including me.

From what I can see, the main order of business in Berlin these days is figuring out what the movement wants to be and what it will stand for. It’s clear that economic inequalities will be a central issue, as they are in the U.S.

Occupy Berlin is also clearly committed – more than its American counterparts – to forging alliances with other Occupy movements in other countries. And translation pays an enormous role in this. Early on, organizers began to incorporate simultaneous interpretation into English, Spanish, and French in their Asambleas, providing areas in which visitors can sit to hear the human mike become a bilingual mike. This is certainly something that might be tried out at Occupy Wall Street as well, though at Liberty Plaza a regular spanish-language Asamblea General is held each Sunday at 5:00 p.m. I look forward to watching Occupy Berlin continue to develop and seeing what else we can learn from international Occupy movements here in New York.

Follow this blog

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

Email address