Shouting ‘theater’ in a crowded fire: Chicago Schools, Summer 1968 & Beyond

chicago schools oneFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Nutt. “Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt. © Jim Nutt.

“Free speech is the right to shout ‘theater’ in a crowded fire.”

— A Yippie proverb, cited by Abbie Hoffman — a member of the Chicago Seven arrested and charged, along with Tom Hayden and others, after protesting at the Democratic convention held in Chicago during the Summer of 1968 — in “Steal This Book” (Pirate Editions, distributed by Grove Press)

Introduction by Paul Ben-Itzak
Text from Experiments in Prose,
Edited by Eugene Wildman
Copyright 1969 The Swallow Press, Chicago
Illustrated with images from the current or upcoming Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, and Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980

(Editor’s note, explanatory: The inclusion of the images from the Art Institute of Chicago exhibitions should not imply any association of the artists with the views expressed. Rather, this Chicago mix tape is intended to reflect the kaleidescopic brilliance of the multiplicity of Chicago schools of thought, literature, art, architecture, and design.)

(Editor’s note, prosatory: In dockside picnics looking out on Lake Michigan while on cross-country train trip pauses, in dreams of ame-soeurs encountered on busses crossing the lake’s glittering sea-like azure expanse, on a Sunday morning jog after an interview for a position I was offered but didn’t take (after my future boss had handed me a press release  announcing a new version of Prozac for dieters and explained “Your role would be to analyze how the news will affect the stock” and I’d thought “No, I’d be more concerned with how the product might affect the dieter”) where I ran smack dab into the final leg of the Chicago Marathon and was cheered on by bystanders as if I’d run the whole race, standing before Chagall’s “White Jesus,” a refugee from Hitler’s “Degenerate Art” exhibition, with its burning synagogues, in the cool halls of the Art Institute near the banks of the Chicago River, peering at a river-boat from the parapet of a bridge named after Hull House’s Jane Addams, contemplating, in a Paris museum, Henry Darger’s epic saga of the Viviane Girls, drawn to accompany a 15,000-page manuscript discovered in Darger’s humble janitor’s quarters in Lincoln Park before it became chic, sipping beers on the mahogany counter of a former speakeasy in the same ‘hood converted to a friend’s living room, whisked back to the train by a brisk autumnal wind while a lone saxophonist breathes life into the canned Debussy piped into a downtown district, seeing African-American workers being shooed away from a private lunch table set up in the publicly-owned Union Station, being held up at a corner outside the station for a police car chase which I soon learn was rigged for a film shoot, and contemplating a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who seems mostly interested in privatizing city services, roads, and schools,  and where the Black population in one of the most segregated cities in the country has dropped by 250,000, aspiring to continue in the spirit of Izzy Stone, and above all inspired by Nelson Algren’s “Chicago, City on the Make” — a screed which has the sentimental effect of an homage — Chicago has always haunted and hounded me. So I was not at all surprised when, in July 2016, about to cross the flooded Seine, my other favorite body of water, I discovered, on a bench not far from a bookstand, “Experiments in Prose,” a celebration of the free-spirited Chicago-style design, literature, and activism which flourished in the 1960s produced by former Chicago Review editor Eugene Wildman for the Chi-based Swallow Press, and which opens with:

Talking

(Tape by Bruce Kaplan. Recorded primarily in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Mayor Daley’s triumph of the will.)

(From a poem about 80 lines long.)

… America, today you are a Helen
Helen, in your old age, in your wisdom
Is it to be a policy to war?
…. Your wisdom of war is too deep for me
My mind’s eye cannot see the point of what all this killing is for
Mankind from A to Z , can you see this is our time
World leaders of men, you have read the history of mankind
Why do you waste our time in war…..

That’s a very moving speech. Would you like to say what you were telling me earlier?

Well, I was for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I had the feeling that he would have been the best to lead all the American people to a greater democracy. He would have helped the minority, the last minority, of Americans, the Negro, to get a fair share of the pie because free enterprise is… a pie, everyone wants a piece of it. I wrote some poems on Chicago too, on Kennedy for the people of Chicago….

chicago schools two

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Darryl Cowherd. “Blackstone, Woodlawn/Chicago,” 1968. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation and Anonymous. © Darryl Cowherd.

You say you gave up your job to write the long one, the Kennedy speech?

Yes and uh it was my own idea, it wasn’t that I was asked to do it, but just that I want to see a greater country and after Senator Kennedy’s passing, I thought that the next best man would be Senator Eugene McCarthy.

What’s your opinion of all these people coming here to Lincoln Park?

Well I think it’s the greatest uh thing to see the young people seeing America, discovering it, there’re young, they’re going all about the country and seeing it, and they want a chance to uh participate in their democracy. It’s a sad thing to see that so many political men have held on to power for close to fifty years, not one of them has [the] grace to bow out and let the younger lawyers and other young men into the government. They hold on with one foot in the grave, they still refuse to bow out gracefully. My name is John F——-, Irish-American, 38 years old, seven months in Chicago from New York City, eighth grade education.

MAN, AMERICA, MANKIND
I stand here before you a man
Not with the idea to teach you
That I cannot do, for I have learned from you
Shakespeare still is a poet, and a painter, and a musician….

I worked very hard on that. You see, Kennedy loved Aristotle, and all the great poets, see, and I reached in for Helen of Troy because Helen of Troy was so beautiful that they all went to war.

chicago schools three

From the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Valeria “Mikki” Ferrill, Untitled from The Garage, 1972. The Art Institute of Chicago. National Docent Symposium Endowment. © Mikki Ferrill.

(Group of girls.)

We’re carrying nothing that hasn’t proved its practicality and necessity by several years of experience. The heavy jeans and turtleneck are protection against mace, likewise the vaseline. The tape on the glasses to keep from getting hit on the glasses. The helmet liner is to protect the head. We tested these helmet liners last night by beating each other over the head with metal vases. The gas mask is again against mace or tear gas or worse, which they are using. For instance, that tear gas shell that exploded in Soldiers Field last night, they mentioned powdered irritants injuring police and National Guard, well come on there are no powdered irritants in mace or tear gas. That had to be something else.

They laid three of them up in the hospital. Probably military and domestic reagents. (?)

chicago schools four

From the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca, and Karl Wirsum. “The Portable Hairy Who!,” 1966. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.

All right what else are we carrying….

Is the radio necessary?

That’s just to follow the news. The medical kit for obvious reasons, bandages, iodine, alcohol for mace. We have a half pint of absolute grain alcohol. The fact is, something that was bitterly learned at Ann Arbor, where we’re from, is that if you are blind drunk mace will not touch you.Time and again they have tried to subdue mad drunks with mace and wound up with a bunch of maced cops and a mad drunk.

Do you have any idea why that is true?

No idea why it’s true, just that it works. For the same reason that we don’t know how mace suppresses the part of your metabolism that digests vitamins. It does, that’s one of the effects of it. These are army surplus gas masks. You can get them for eleven dollars at the Army surplus store on Barry Street. You have to frighten them into giving them to you because the police have talked them out of selling gas masks. The World War II gas masks have been bought up by the fire department; these are World War I. Ah, but they’ll work. The black is because the worst of the police brutality is after dark, they seem to feel bolder in the dark, therefore the black is to protect you. You can hide easier.

chicago school fiveFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Billy Abernathy, “Mother’s Day,” from “Born Hip,” 1962. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the Illinois Arts Council.

You obviously feel there is a great deal of danger in coming to Chicago. Why did you?

We have had the word from some of our friends in New York, who were in Washington, and looked over the situation here, that we ought to have helmets, gas masks, and the works. The usual reaction by the police is not in regard to any action taken by the demonstrators, rather in accordance to the size of the crowd — the bigger the crowd the much more likely the possibility of police violence. This has been proved over and over again. The marchers don’t have to start anything, just a sizeable enough crowd will incite them. For instance, already two people here, that brings the count to what seven so far? In the past three days. And this is before anything’s even started.

Three killed, four injured, so far.

There was a guy killed last Thursday?

Dean Johnson and two others.

Who were the others killed?

I’m not sure, I don’t have all the information….

It was in the papers but we had to leave the papers and everything back because we can’t carry anything that isn’t absolutely essential. Oh, this uh experience too, the name of the defense fund. These are so that if I get hit on the arms I won’t get my wrists cut.

chicago school sixFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1963. The Art Institute of Chicago. Anonymous gift. © The Gordon Parks Foundation.

What’s worth the risk…. Why are you here?

Freedom man.

Freedom man, that’s all there is. Freedom’s where it’s at. We gotta get it.

What’s frightening now is not so much that the uh…. What’s really terrifying in the world situation today is how much we’ve become like the Soviet Union. As much as them like us, we like them. The same people that are demonstrating against Vietnam are now demonstrating against Czechoslovakia. It’s the exact same thing. One of our favorite anti-Vietnam people in New York is out throwing rocks at the Russian embassy.

I heard some people standing around talking before, fairly straight looking, saying it looked like the newsreels from Prague.

Incidentally, we found out who the federal allies they brought in are, the Eighty-Second Airborn, the one that was used at the Pentagon, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. What they do when they train people, it’s for riot training, what they do we found is they give them all sorts of stuff about these kids are all Commie agitators trying to stir up, etc etc. which is so much bull. Honestly there’s nobody quite like SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], the New Left, and so on for throwing out Marxists wherever they find them. [In the early 1980s, reports surfaced that SDS had been infiltrated by government agents.] That happened at the last convention and they’re throwing them out steadily. The actual number of SDS people here is rather small. You’d be surprised, not all SDS members carry cards. Most of them are in other organizations too; it’s an interlocking thing.

Why do you think so many fewer people have come to Chicago than everybody was saying?

Nothing about it makes sense….

***

Those are the grooviest helmets I ever saw.

Thanks. Would you believe that more than half the people in this coutnry have no vote, no voice, and this is what we’re protesting. We can’t vote in the ballot box, we can’t get our words in a magazine, in the papers, all we can do is bring our bodies to the demonstrations, and vote that way. If we’re not given a voice, not listened to, well the imbalance remains and there’s only one way to correct it, we hope it won’t come to that. It has happened before.

What’s that?

It’s water, just water. Water is the one good antidote for mace. The vaseline will keep the mace out, but the water will wash off the vaseline. The water’s to get the mace out once it’s in your face.

chicago schools eightFrom the exhibition Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, now running at the Art Institute of Chicago: Stanley Tigerman, “The Titanic, 1978.” The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Stanley Tigerman. © 1978 Stanley Tigerman.

Revolution brothers….

(in unison) Revolution… si … black flag, great…. By the way, anarchy and chaos are not the same thing if anyone wants to know. We’ve been saying it for years but who listens to us, once again. The whole idea behind the anarchy thing here is simply that people will by themselves without outside control….

…. These men have a hitherto untested capacity for self direction….

They will, on their own, order their own society. People don’t need the whip, what they carry is enough, that’s what we’re fighting for, why we to take all the whips out of society, there’re garrets enough. People will naturally form an order and stick to it, and when they can’t, well, society sure as hell can’t do it for them. Society’s supposed to serve man, not vice versa.

chicago schools sevenFrom the exhibition Now! Hairy Who Makes You Smell Good!, running at the Art Institute of Chicago from September 27, 2018 through January 6, 2019: Art Green. “Consider the Options, Examine the Facts, Apply the Logic (originally titled The Undeniable Logician),” 1965. Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Anonymous Gift. © Art Green.

chicago school nine newFrom the exhibition Never a Lovely So Real: Photography and Film in Chicago, 1950–1980, running through October 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago: Bob Crawford, Untitled (Wall of Respect), 1967. The Art Institute of Chicago. Through prior gifts of Emanuel and Edithann M. Gerard and Mrs. James Ward Thorne. © Bob Crawford/ courtesy Romi Crawford.

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At the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles, France, America is great again

arles photo bobby train 1Don’t miss out on the Arts Voyager’s illustrated commentary on the Rencontres de la Photographie, the international festival opening July 2 in Arles, France, where it runs through September 23. Our articles, including photography from the festival, will be made available exclusively by e-mail to Dance Insider & Arts Voyager subscribers. Subscribe today for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Above, from the Arles exhibition The Train: RFK’s Last Journey: Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos, Untitled, from the series RFK Funeral Train, 1968. The exhibition is part of a mini-festival within the festival, America Great Again, also featuring work from Robert Frank, Raymond Depardon, and others. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles 50 years ago this month, at the apex of the Democratic presidential primaries. Courtesy of the Danziger Gallery.

Pourquoi je voterai Benoît Hamon

Par Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

“Il faut se saisir de la réalité tant qu’il est vécu par nos compatriotes.”

— Benoît Hamon, France Inter, le 23 janvier 2017

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” (Volez comme un papillon, piquez comme un abeille)

— Muhammad Ali, citation collée au dessus du bureau de Benoit Hamon

De l’extrême gauche a l’extrême droite — avec quelques exceptions sur quelques points de la part de Yannick Jadot & Emmanuel Macron — tous les candidats à l’élection presidentielle française dit qu’ils sont seuls à détenir la verité. Or, leur verités sont presque toutes basées sur un idéologie plutôt que sur une analyse froide des faits. Sauf Benoît Hamon.

Voici un exemple: Dans notre société, il y en a qui disent que la soi-disant “révolution” numérique est formidable, et il y en a d’autres (comme votre serviteur) qui disent que c’est un malédiction malsaine car elle remplace les humains par des robots (ou, si tu prefère, le travail individuel par l’automatique et les ‘algorithmes,’ donc l’humain devient plus et plus obsolète en faveur de la robotique). Benoît Hamon, par contre, dit (pour resumer): “Ecoutez, qu’on l’aime ou qu’on se mefie, le numérique est là. La mondialisation — et le perte d’emploi qu’elle implique, comme pour le numerique — est là. Alors comment faire face?”

Comme *une* solution possible, Hamon a proposé le “revenu universel.” *MAIS,* à la différence des autres politiciens — surtout ceux qui lui sont presque tous tombés dessus — il a précisé (je résume encore), “C’est ma verité, mais ce n’est pas moi qui ai le monopole de la vérité. On peut discuter.”

Donc, pour moi, la question n’est pas, “Est-ce que le revenu universel vas nous sauver” ni non plus, “Mais comment on va payer pour ça?” L’important c’est plutôt dans le fait que Benoît Hamon a posé la question: “Le numérique et le mondialisation sont là. Il y a des gens qui souffrent au cause de ça. Est-ce qu’il y a un moyen d’améliorer leur souffrance? Voila une idée. Est-ce que vous en avez une autre?”

At Artcurial Photography Auction, Frontiers in a Reflecting Glass

photo-newton-smallHelmut Newton (1920 – 1984), “Veruschka on the Terrace of the Presidential Suite, Hotel Meridien, Nice,” 1975. Silver gelatin print, 7.48 x 11.42 inches. Signed, titled, and dated with artist’s stamp on back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 15,000 – 20,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

One might think that scheduled as a curtain closer on the same evening as its monumental “From the Willy Ronis Inheritance” sale, which offers 163 lots starting with a 1926 self-portrait and finishing with a 1990 nude, book-ending no less than a photo-biography of a largely mid-20th century popular Paris, an auction entitled simply “Photography” might have trouble holding one’s attention. But if the scale is more modest, the scope of tonight’s second Artcurial auction is in a way more audacious than the Ronis sale, with one predominant — and timely — theme emerging: Frontiers. We’ve chosen to share a some samples, ranging from the intimate to the inter-galactic and finishing with a presidential epilogue, from, respectively, Helmut Newton, NASA, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Man Ray, and Mark Seliger, whose portrait of a retreating Barack Obama is just begging to be Photo-shopped. – Paul Ben-Itzak
To access the full version of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49, or $25 for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.

 

November 13, 2015: Frontline, Paris — The year when living became dangerous

(Revised from its initial publication on November 16, 2015, direct from Belleville, Paris. Bataclan was re-opened last night, November 12, in a benefit performance for survivor associations, by Sting, with “How Fragile we are.” In unity, strength. De l’union, la force.)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2015, 2016

“Don’t say a prayer for me now
Save it ’til the morning after.”

— Duran-Duran, reprised by Eagles of Death Metal, performing November 13 at Bataclan, Paris

“We know the children who begin the youth of loss greater than they can dream now.”
— Wendell Berry, “November 26, 1963”

“C’est pas rien, les mots.” (Words are not nothing.)                                                                                –Antoine Leiris, whose wife was killed at Bataclan on November 13, 2015, author of “You will not have my hate” (Vous n’aurez pas ma haine.), in an interview broadcast November 13, 2016 on France Inter radio.

PARIS — Imagine if, instead of the Twin Towers, Mohammed Attah and his gang (can we stop calling Da’esh the “Islamic State”? It’s like calling the Mafia “The Good Catholics Club”) had struck City Center and instantly killed 90 spectators and held 1400 others hostage, simultaneously mowing down diners at Veselka and four other cafes. This is what happened here Friday night, when the terrorists struck down 89 fans of an American rock band known for reprising a Duran-Duran hit and 41 others at restaurants and cafes in neighboring quarters of the 10th and 11th arrondissements here in the East of Paris, as well as the Stade de France in the suburb of St.-Denis. The massacres, as mayor Anne Hidalgo pointed out Saturday, were hardly random, “It’s the Paris of vivre ensemble (living together) which was attacked.” As it happened, I was in the area Thursday night, first at a group exhibition at the three-floor Bastille Design Center on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir whose highlight was a display that humanized the migrants by putting their visages on postage stamps (suggesting they could bypass the migratory ordeal by simply mailing themselves to Sanctuary); later returning from the Theatre de la Bastille after seeing Vincent Thomasset’s take on Julien Previeux’s “Lettres de Non-motivation,” which treats the unemployment crisis at the root of Europeans’ most legitimate fears of an influx of migrants in a humorous fashion, with a series of letters responding to job ads in which the correspondent explains why he will not be able to accept the job not yet offered to him. The last time I was at Bataclan was in 2003, covering a demonstration by striking freelance or intermittent artists, protesting proposed reductions in their unemployment compensation. Angry that the private nightclub had not joined other theaters in honoring the strike, they were there to cajole ticket-holders to go home and to good-naturedly try to get the featured pop singer to cancel, chanting, “Michel Jonasz, avec nous!” The theater management ultimately relented, but even if it hadn’t, the protestors would have simply continued their demonstration — without resorting to violence.

All this is how civilized, normal people respond to societal problems. And it’s just this, a society which has set up a civilized system for dealing with disagreements, processing conflicts, and accommodating difference — vivre ensemble, en effet — which Da’esh, in its nihilism, is out to destroy. (A French artist friend commented that the problem is “We are brought up respecting life, and with a fear of dying; they don’t have that fear.” But I think it goes deeper than this: They also don’t see their victims as humans whose lives have any value. Another trait the French — and all civilized people — strive for, at their best, is empathy.)

On a deeper level, what they want to infect the rest of us with by these massacres is a lack of faith, a sense of meaninglessness and hopelessness. Why go out, why see art, why have a drink with your friend on a cafe terrace — why do whatever profiting from life means for you — if you might get killed doing so, for no reason? Initially, I was afraid they’d succeeded with me; I felt numb. I couldn’t even confront that these murderers’ barbaries were no longer happening someplace else (I was not in Paris during the Charlie and kosher super-market killings), but around my neighborhood, on all the streets that are part of my daily routine; two of the cafes, the Little Cambodia and the Carillon, are at the intersection of the rues Bichat and Alibert, which I pass by whenever I walk from Belleville to the Canal Saint-Martin. Two others – including le Bon Biere, a nondescript brasserie where the Mexican-American college student Noemie Gonzalez was killed – face each other on a catty corner near my treasured Canal St.-Martin, on the street that leads up to Belleville, the rue de Temple.  I’ve strolled along the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir heading up from that spot on the canal for 15 years, perusing antique fairs or en route to the Theatre de la Bastille, but also because this street — where Simenon’s fictional Commissaire Maigret ‘lived’ — is part of the Paris myth for me. (Maigret, who was never just interested in finding the culpable, but in understanding his psychology — the reasons he killed, even though they were not reasonable — would be stymied by this particular case and might not even want to probe the mental morass of these terrorists.) It’s at the boulevard Richard-Lenoir where the Canal goes underground, resurfacing at the Arsenal of the Bastille before connecting to the Seine. (Before these recent attacks, the closest I’d ever come in Paris to taking my life in my hands was walking across the narrow lock separating the two fleuves. Today it feels like my life is no longer my own.)

It’s this beauty which these Obscurantists (even that term today seems feeble, because it sounds like someone just turning out a light, and masks the carnage, the ‘body parts everywhere’ evoked by witnesses, which these devils wreaked) are after, and it’s this beauty which finally broke my numbness when, Sunday morning, I walked up to and through the parc Belleville. First it was, simply and literally, the light: The late morning brilliance of the Sun reflecting off the multi-colored autumnal leaves. Then, when I reached the belvedere, it was looking out on the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks – and light-houses(phares) —  of ‘les Lumieres’ like the Pompidou Museum of Modern Art as well as the Pantheon, where are enterred artists like Zola and Hugo who confronted societal problems not with swords but minds, as well as Marie Curie, who cured diseases and, most recently admitted, resistants to the Nazi Occupation. But more immediately, in the park which descends several city blocks of this neighborhood in which Chinese, Arab, African, and even some American and English immigrants live together along with artists and BoBos (bourgeoise Bohemians), you see the plaza beneath and descending from that, a rectangular fountain, terminating in a circle, drained for the Fall. Spotting a man leading about a dozen students in Tai Chi or Tai Kwon Do exercises and demonstrating combat ‘rules,’ I thought: No more rules. But then hearing and seeing children of all colors playing, laughing, and yelling, I finally lost it and started to cry. First, because of their blissful ignorance. A week ahead of November 21, I thought of Wendell Berry’s “November 26, 1963,” a tattered copy of the book of which, illustrated by Ben Shahn and given to me on my third birthday, I still retain, the words, “We know the children who begin the youth of loss greater than they can dream now” even more potentially prophetic now than they were after President Kennedy’s assassination. (Also prophetic was the inscription of the family friend who gave it to me: “Who can understand the minds of men” who commit acts like this.) And I cried because Paris, or the idea and ideal of Paris — beauty, thought and reflection, art, and, yes, even the sometimes (verbally) violent, or vigorous confrontation of ideas — this is what Paris represents not just to Parisians but the world. When one child announced to his father, “Well, at least it’s sunny,” I didn’t know whether to be re-assured or discouraged that this was all the boy had the right to expect, to be content with.

These days, and like everywhere, Paris can also represent polemic and political recuperation. (Without yet monitoring the response of politicians in the U.S. — in whch I exclude Barack Obama, whose solidarity has been exemplary and without political connivance — I assume some of this recuperation is already going on among right-wing politicians in the U.S.) In 2003, marching here against the U.S.-lead invasion of Iraq (one of whose consequences was the firing of the Bathe officers of Saddam’s army many of whom now make up the cadres of Da’esh; I am really trying to avoid any polemics in this piece, but as an American writing in part for a French audience, I think it’s important to take some responsibility and own up that this is not just a “European” crisis), I was unnerved when, at one of the marches, a group wearing armbands from one of the unions muscled us out of the way so they could get to the front of the march, as I was by the various banners advertising political parties and other unions.

So it was that I was heartened on returning to the top of the parc Belleville Sunday evening to watch the Sun setting over the Eiffel. When I first noticed the larger than usual crowd I thought it was another food distribution organized by an association that supports Balkan immigrants. But no, it was just ordinary Parisians, and — judging by the different languages — tourists gathering. Not an organized demonstration of solidarity, no signs, and no political recuperations. Just people like me who felt the need not to watch television replays and endless if well-meaning coverage, but just to be reminded of what we’re here for, of the things they can’t kill — and to search for this solidarity, this fellowship in Paris’s most cosmopolitan of neighborhoods. As I leaned against one of the railings looking out at the purple and gold deepening sky (“Look, there’s even green!” one boy said to his father) setting over the Eiffel, I heard and saw next to me an elegant young French man with a Johnny Depp van dyke, long hair, and top-hat speaking with a young blonde Dutch woman — in English. When he opened up his aluminum thermos and poured a couple of cups of something hot, I opened mine and, after filling my plastic cup with fresh mint tea, lifted it to them and proposed, “Tchin.” “Santé, Monsieur,” the man answered steadily. “We need it especially now.”

We also need artists. The government will strike back against these murderers, as they should. They will institute more protection measures, which should strike the proverbial balance between protecting our lives and the values which Da’esh is trying to kill. (I think President Francois Hollande gets this, announcing succinctly that it’s our freedom they’re after.) But we will also depend on artists to defy these Obscurantists, these worshippers at the shrine of death — and after this attack on a theater, for both artists and audience, continuing to create art and patronize the arts is a form of defiance — and keep reminding us of what we’re fighting for: culture, light, the right to debate, the prism art offers us and which is not always one-dimensional….

And we will depend on artists to help us remember to laugh, even at the problems society is faced with. In this context, Vincent Thomasset’s dramatization — and physicalization — of Julien Previeux’s book “Lettres de Non-motivation,” compiled of his responses to real job announcements in which he informs the employer why he will, unfortunately, be unable to take the position (not yet offered him), is an acid take on the bitter situation in which so many find themselves today, chiefly applying for jobs with employers who rarely bother to respond any more, or who reply with form letters. This last fact is born out immediately by the large proportion of prospective employers — their help wanted ads variously projected on a compact upstage screen or read out loud by the actors or pre-recorded — who reply to the often sarcastic ‘Lettres of non-engagement’ with notes saying, essentially, We regret but despite your high qualifications, we are unable to offer you the job. In other words, form letters which reveal the disdain so many employers have for the out of work.

If one of the challenges Thomasset, also a choreographer, set himself was that of theatricalizing a literary albeit humorous work, he mostly succeeded, largely thanks to the diverse talents of his five-person cast. In the most original response, Johann Cuny informs a company advertising for a high-tech position that he is writing them from the year 2065, where unemployment is at 78 percent, and where consequently a whole separate unemployment office has been created to find jobs in the past, thanks to a time transporter, before concluding that as the machine is malfunctioning and the time transporter repair-man is stuck in 1962, he will be unable to accept the job. As he recites his more or less straight response, the multi-talented dynamo known as Michele Gurtner, standing next to him, makes clickety-clackety sounds accompanied by robotic arm movements, indicating that this is the way people talk in the future. Later, Gurtner only slightly shifts gears to reply to another ad as if she is an android made to please. This powerhouse performer then again alters her dramatic tempo to deliver an employer’s (real) formulaic response a la Sarah Bernhardt, by the end rendering the traditional French business closing “I assure you of my sentiments the most distinguished” as if it’s the culmination of a tragic drama, breaking down in tears and collapsing over Cuny, who had earlier delivered the non-engagement letter she’s responding to.

The teaser comes with the cloying, husky-voiced Anne Steffans’s ebulliently danced response (mimicking a cheerleader routine) describing the letter she wrote about how perfect she is for the given position and how she’d love to take it — before announcing that when she woke up in the morning the letter had disappeared and “perhaps it will get to you under someone else’s signature,” a line taken up as a choral refrain by the rest of the cast (also including David Arribe) before “Lettres of Non-engagement” ends, as it must, with the stoic bearded Francis Lewyllie reciting the ultimate of non-engagement letters, as might Melville’s Bartleby (inscribed in the minds of school-children here as in the U.S.), enumerating why he’d prefer not to do all the tasks required by the job.

Unfortunately, as of Friday, November 13, “Je prefere pas” — to go out to the theater, regale on the terrace of a cafe — has become a tempting option. “I prefer not” to be *engaged* — in the French sense of the word (which means ‘committed’), less.

“Lettres of Non-engagement,” co-produced by the Theatre de la Bastille, the Festival d’Automne, and several other presenters around France, continues through November 21 at the Theatre de la Bastille, in the Bastille, where Parisians will, defiantly, continue laughing and arguing on the many café terraces —parce qu’il faut continué.

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. par/by Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

Leonard Cohen est morte; vivre Leonard Cohen. Et vivre la Democracie.

Lyrics/paroles ici/here. Et pour ceux et celles qui ont besoin de se protegé de la pluie / And for those who need to protect themselves from the rain, voici/here’s his/son “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Et pour vous protegé de vos pensées de 4h00 / And to protect you from your 4 a.m. anxieties, ecouté (et regardé!) /listen (and look at) this. (J’aime aussi / I also like le version de Jennifer Warnes.

“It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and the worse.”
— Leonard Cohen, 1932 – 2016