Harold Jaffe Interview with NotosOyku
NotosOyku: All of your writings (fiction, non-fiction and docufiction) can be seen as controversial in today's American society. To what extent has your writing demonstrated to average Americans that the life they have been exposed to is no more than what media and government want them to live?
Harold Jaffe: What might be called a postmodern totalitarianism is at work in the US, but there are also small, hard-to-locate rents or openings in the totalitzing network. My writing is designed to locate, enter and expand those openings.
The majority are naturally conditioned not to see "guerrilla" intrusions, or to confuse them with something else -- Anti-Americanism, say. But some people, not many, will see and comprehend, perhaps especially among the disaffected young.
NO: "Art is not an unmoved mover; it is, one way or another, a reflection of and response to contemporary culture and it employs the techniques and references at hand" is a statement that readers clearly sort out from Beyond the Techno-Cave: A Guerrilla Writer's Guide to Post-Millennial Culture. Why is it that contemporary art today cannot be compared with "crisis art" like ACT-UP?
HJ: The HIV epidemic took many lives, but it was the official HIV propaganda targeting and demonizing homosexual males that inspired Act-Up. And it was close at hand, the virulent propaganda infecting the very cities in which gay people lived and worked.
The immoral colonization and mass murders in Iraq have not made the same impact in the US because of circumstances which have been largely manipulated: 9/11, US ignorance about Islam, xenophobia, and also fear that any protest, however ethical, is liable to endanger the protester's well-being. Fear that is, that a response will ignite the US government's ill will toward the protester with grave consequences to follow.
NO: There is a great distinction between what you call an artist and do not. What do you think about authors who assume that speaking for humanity and serving the society at large are unnecessary?
HJ: It depends on context. In a situation such as what has transpired in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, US artists who turn their backs or avert their eyes, as if the "ethnic cleansing," poisoning childen with depleted uranium, and jinguoistic lies do not exist are themselves complicit to some degree.
NO: Since the literary content of your work is somewhat different from most fiction and non-fiction authors, how would you define your literature?
I define it as engaged or committed within a long tradition with proponents in many nationalities, including Turkey's Nazim Hikmet, for example. One difference in my writing is its "innovative" structure; but Walt Whitman, Camus (sometimes), the Nicraguan Ernesto Cardenal, the Salvadoran Roque Dalton, and certainly Brecht were also innovative, engaged artists. This dissenting tradition across nationalities has been mostly marginalized and patronized, but it continues, as it must, and is in fact perennial.
NO: In the section "White Terror" we read a dialogue or a monologue throughout the short news you have selected which is both crucial and comical for US society. There is a clear acceptance in a metaphorical way that these events are related to the discrimination and alienation of the 'other'. What can you say about the opinions of American society about terrorism and discrimination?
HJ: Racism is embedded in American culture, as can be inferred from the saga of Barack Obama and how his presidential campaign is both structured and received. Like some other "first world" countries, the US sees and responds only to "illicit" terror but not to its own organized, "licit" terror which wreaks much greater damage: state of the art weaponry that murders and poisons without the gruesome obligation of hearing the death cries, smelling the blood, witnessing the carnage.
NO: In the section "Schizo-Terrorist", under the title of Prisoner's Exercise, short life story and imprisonment of an ex con named V and his and many others fight against the disguised history of what happened in Attica State Prison. Do you think that institutional attitude is similar to most of the world's governmental connivance toward discrimination and alienation?
HJ: Yes. Attica was a particularly disturbing instance of that attitude. But the billionaire New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller who organized the massacre didn't seem to lose any sleep over it. The fact that the vast majority of murdered prisoners were black and that a few prison guards were killed in the melee officially legitimized the murder and brutal treatment of the inmates.
NO: Throughout the book there are sections where you not only talk about Americans but address Calvinist Europeans, white Anglo-Saxons, the upperclass British. What do you think affected people so much to have such similar ideas and opinions about the world?
HJ: Globalism allied with high technology has metastasized rapidly into homogenization bordering on totalitarianism. One can see it in Europe -- the flattening of individuality and eccentricity as Europeans (primarily Caucasian Europeans of course) move freely through the European Union.
This homogenization is an elaboration and in a sense refinement of pre-existing attitudes of classicism and racism. One major justification for the maintenance of these anti-humanistic notions is the imagined need for "security," generated by the fear of "terrorism" -- the "illicit" not the "licit" sort.
NO: What is the current standpoint and importance of the ideology of the post-Marxist and Trotsky venues which you mention in your book?
HJ: At this juncture Marxism in any form is read and cited only by intellectuals. A practical marxism such as Gramsci advocates in his theorizing of "praxis" does, in principle, have application in the US, but capitalist totalitarianism easily has the upper hand and there is in the US a longstanding prejudice against Marxism and even socialism, whch are characterized as un-American.
NO: In the section "Gitmo" an interview takes place on the US policies in most of the prisons around the world and the cruel and degrading treatments that American soldiers have perpetrated aon the prisoners despite all the objections of the UN and other world bodies. If it is something that obvious why do you think everyday more and more patriotic Americans support the Iraqi war and keep sending millions of soldiers to Middle East?
HJ: As in Vietnam, in the massacres perpetrated by the US in My Lai, the circumstances are officially lied about. In My Lai, several US subordinates were prosecuted while their superiors were left untouched. Very similar to what transpired in Abu Ghraib. The lie is that the pressures of war occasionally invoke violent excesses but that these excesses are eccentric, deviations from the moral code which governs the way US wars are in principle conducted. When dissenting Americans cite Agent Orange in Vietnam or depleted uranium poisoning Iraqi children or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they are dismissed as fanatics and "liberal" enemy-lovers.
NO: "It is the outlandish, impoverished Muslim enacting the role of foredoomed Jew." is a statement you have made about the view and impositions of the Muslim society. How do you think all the recent and non-recent events that covers the Muslim-American relationships will evolve and conclude?
The optimum way for the orchestrated violence between Israeli Jew and Muslim and between US Christians and Islam to be resolved is for there to develop at least a degree of mutual understanding. And I think the primary obligation is the US's and Israel's. I suspect that it will take a good deal more war-making and "terror" for there to be a peaceable resolution. This hypo-thetical resolution will also come because of mounting casualties on the US and Israeli sides and the inevitable fatigue of engaging in a particular war.
The extent of harm that will be wreaked in the meantime to innocent people, and how long it will take for the fatigue of war-making to set in cannot be estimated. To what extent mutual understanding will be involved in the final resolution, whenever that occurs, will depend in good part on the circumstances of the war.