France and the Veil, aka My Fascination With Where the State Ends and the Individual Begins.

Today, the French government came thismuch closer to banning the wearing of the Islamic veil in state-run facilities, such as hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport. It also recommends that anyone showing visible signs of "radical religious practice" should be refused residence cards and citizenship. (BBC, 1.26.20).

What I find so interesting is that according to France's Ministry of the Interior. only 1,900 women in France wear the types of veil in question. In 2008, the population of France was 62,048,473 (World Bank, World Development Indicators). That .00306% must pose a wicked challenge to the French principles of equality and secularism: "The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable. We must condemn this excess," the [Ministry's] report said.  At the same time, there is something to be said for a country that will defend its principles so absolutely.

Tell the faithful women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their scarf to cover their bosom
Koran, 24:31 (English translation)
There are so many points of view on this highly contentious issue. The French state claims that the face covering is a physical manifestation of a culture of female subjugation, yet many veil-wearing Islamic women say that they choose to wear the veil as part of their orthodox lifestyle.

Below are some articles from a variety of resources. I have tried to include pieces from all sides of the debate.

It was nearly a caricature because the person said: 'my wife will never be able to go out without the full veil; I don't believe in gender equality; women have inferior status; I will not respect the principles of the secular society,'" he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.  --France denies citizenship to man with veiled wife AP (2.4.10)


    On The Inside Looking Out

    I suppose you’d say I was a voyeur, but there is a creepy overlay to that really isn’t there. I am just curious. When I lived in California, my favorite time to go for walks was dusk. The cement of the sidewalks radiated warmth absorbed from a day in the sun; the light was softer; there was no more expectation of the day—just a calm satisfying summing up.

    People also still had their curtains open.

    Home from a day abroad, people settle in, get a little dinner started. Perhaps turn on the tube. Open mail. And as I walked by on the sidewalk, I could see them do these things. And I would wonder—does she like those kitchen cabinets? Do they serve her needs well? Did she and her husband sit down with a designer and think through what kind of cabinet would make life easy in the kitchen? Or does she hate those cabinets, an inherited taste from the previous owner? Does she wish the kitchen were different? Or is she even cooking? Maybe she hates cooking but the half-hour in the kitchen is the only time she has to herself in her crazy day; she can have a glass of wine and ruminate over the fight she had with her husband in the far, less well-lit room. And such pretty hair she has. I wonder what she spends on it a month? Long layers and a professional color job (at her age it has to be)—what, say every 12 weeks? They must have money. I wonder what goes through her mind when she drops that kind of money—does her husband resent her for it? Maybe she makes the money and feels like she can do whatever she damned well pleases with it. Maybe he is having an affair. He seems handsome, from the little light I have to work with. Then again, perhaps they really love each other—truly madly deeply. And their church plays a huge part in their lives. But as the question pops in my head, I am further down the block, in view of another panoramic window.

    Truth told, I don’t only do this on walks through softly lit neighborhoods. I can’t seem to stop the narratives in my head. I walk down streets, ride on trains, look at the passenger in the car next to me and off I go. Does she wear such heavy eyeliner because everyone had told her growing up that she had such beautiful eyes, and now she is desperate to make them pop? Girding herself against the juggernaut of age, if she can just make people realize her eyes, they’ll be distracted from the rest of everything else that she no longer feels in control of? And what does he find so satisfying about science fiction? The story is in reality ludicrous, yet he is riveted! Is it the utter total fantasy of it all? An escape into a world with another language of signifiers? A different code of worth, a meme that makes him feel so free?

    Perhaps this is just a by-product of forty years of being on the outside looking in—or rather trapped on the inside looking out. Of feeling encased in a membrane that prevents me from fully engaging, of snapping into place with the world around me. Yet it may be a way for me to deal and process the hugely overwhelming amount of people, individuals, in the world. To wrap my head around the absolute fact that each and every person has a reality just or more complex as mine is mind-blowing. Perhaps by choosing to construct and deconstruct one individual’s narrative, I can find a release for the pressure of the collective experience.


    Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee

    Ah, Salome.
    Innocent as to the power of her beauty, and when finally that power is realized, the beauty is gone. Isn't that any woman's dream, to have the beauty of her youth with the wisdom of her years? Herod offers her anything--anything--and she turns to her mother for the answer; still a child,  knowing so little of the world. Perhaps hearing her voice articulate her mother's demand was the moment of the loss of innocence: Bring me the head of John the Baptist. The girl now knows her power. She holds the head upon the charger. And it brings a smile.

    Or something like that. I have always loved Regnault's Salome at the Met. The bright glow, the dark eyes, the mischievous smile. The clumsiness of young power and naive satisfaction. I especially love the careless play of her feet in her slippers. This painting originally started out as a portrait called A Study of an African Woman, and then, The Favorite Slave, and finally decided on reckoning a Salome (JSTOR). Curious how one model's portrait could be fluid enough to represent three different women, the potential of so many in one, a prism of identity.


    Rock On, Grumpy!

    The Nordic Black Metal scene has always fascinated me, mostly I think because it is in such aesthetic contrast to my perceptions of Norway: bright sun, bright snow, bright blonds. But perhaps it is that constant brightness that drives one to darker corners? I am not a fan of the acts of destruction wrought by black-metal heads, but my interest is piqued by the idea of this dark, primal, guttural music reflecting "a loss of faith, and the hysterical fear and sadness that come with it." (Ben Ratliff, Thank You Professor, That Was Putrid, NYT 12/15/09). Isn't that the true language of music, to speak for the aches we feel? A true transliteration of the neural to the aural.

    Ben Ratliff covered the black metal symposium "Hideous Gnosis," which took place here in Brooklyn. The symposium in itself is ironic as the black metalheads find their philosophical sustenance in having nothing to deconstruct, existing is a void, like a black hole; or as one musician put it, "my music does not come from a philosophy but from a precritical compulsion." Yet critics and academics remained undeterred, saying black metal "represents decay, radical individualism, misanthropy, negativity about all systems, and awe of the natural world."

    Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire cast this fabulous theory about black metal as part of ritual confession (from Ratliff's article):
    “The black metal event is a confession without need of absolution, without need of redemption,” he said. It is, he added, “a cleaning up of the mess of others.” He invoked the old English tradition of sin eating by means of burial cakes, in which a loaf of bread was put on a funeral bier or a corpse, and a paid member of the community would eat the bread, representing sin, to absolve and comfort the deceased.

    “Black metal has become the sin eater,” he intoned. “It is engaged in transgressive behavior to be rid of it.”
    I am looking forward to seeing Until The Light Takes Us, an upcoming documentary on the black metal scene, as I don't think I have the fortitude to listen to the whole oeuvre to suss out the underlying philosophies. According the Andrew O'Hehir's review of the film in Salon, the scene's main mouthpiece is Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnackh, of the one-man band Burzum). Vikernes, a polarizing character in his own right, is supposed to be a highly articulate and intelligent murderer and arsonist who feels that the core essence of black metal was trodden down by the scores of "brain-dead heavy-metal guys" who ran to jump on the black metal bandwagon (poseurs!) and left a trail of unfocused destruction. Hmm. I have a hunch I will be seeing this flick by myself!