Thursday, December 3, 2020




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Four Remembrances of Greg Trupiano


Gregory Trupiano—December 13, 1955 – February 18, 2020.

Greg Trupiano, born in Brooklyn, New York, passed away suddenly in February, 2020. He was Director of Artistic Administration at Sarasota Opera in Florida. He worked there for 33 seasons while maintaining his residence in Brooklyn. Mr. Trupiano made tremendous contributions to the arts community, especially in New York City. He assisted and consulted with several opera and theatre companies and worked various theatre jobs around the City from stage manager to producer to director. Greg’s lifelong passion for and knowledge of Walt Whitman inspired him to launch the Walt Whitman Project, devoted to the performance of Whitman’s words to the public. [Photo credit, Matthew Holler]

I

A man of contrasts. This personality trait enabled Greg intellectually and emotionally to take in Walt Whitman, the history of a nation, New York City, and particularly Brooklyn. Juggling overwhelming concepts?!  No problem, Greg fearlessly rushed right into the middle and then managed to step into the light of truth. Being with Greg when he uncovered a fact that didn’t fit logically or hearing him tell stories that on the surface didn’t make sense, Greg would notice my furrowed brow. He would pause with a disarming, sly smile, eyes wide with pleasure. He radiated calmness as if to say, life is complex, it’s okay, together we move forward. He possessed clarity. 

Working with Greg was a joy. He was cheerful and prepared. Everyone who associated with Greg knew about his high professional standards and formidable organization skills, skills needed to bring a new opera to life. When Greg was not immersed in American Opera Project’s risky ventures, or in a NYC theatre project, he was an expert in realistic restagings of 19th century Italian grand opera.

Greg taught me about operatically trained voices. He had a command of the technical aspects and could evaluate superior qualities in a human voice. When we finished auditions at AOP headquarters or perhaps after an evening performance, we frequently went to a diner—Greg was familiar with diners in every dark corner of the city—and it was fun and illuminating to compare notes and catch up about concerts and operas that we had attended. For hours we could discuss composers, rising vocal talents, iconoclastic productions, international opera trends, and on and on. Greg had the latest news about singers coming onto the scene, operas premiering around the country (and in Europe), and the gossip about opera powerbrokers, who was in, and who was out (in every meaning of the phrase).

Given Greg’s vast knowledge about opera’s cutting edge, to me it seemed a mistake that Greg was not employed by the big NYC opera companies. At AOP, he volunteered on projects for years, generously returning his small fees to the company. It often struck me as incongruous that his main work was at a conservative opera company in Sarasota, Florida, a “snowbird” resort town, known for programming traditional “warhorse” operas.

At AOP, Greg’s satisfaction came from developing operas from the ground up, for example, Paula Kimper and Wende Persons’ Patience & Sarah, which premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1998. (Anne Whitehouse was part of our team, too.) Through The Walt Whitman Project, which he founded with Lon Black, Greg established a successful track record of producing poetry in outdoor settings, finding a home base at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, a landmark park that lists Walt Whitman among its founders. 

Greg continued to surprise me after more than thirty years. There was always new information coming from him: deeper, more multi-layered understandings of history and tradition, which bore fruit in Sarasota Opera’s Verdi productions. Greg possessed the spirit for the clash of opposing forces and shared his passion with anyone who would listen, in a theater lobby or on a neighborhood sidewalk. His sensitivity and empathy convinced skeptics of the power of poetry and avant-garde music theatre. In casual conversations, Greg generously revealed himself to others and teased out a commonality of interests. Every day I remember and try to use this tool.

-Charles Jarden, Director of Strategic Planning, American Opera Projects

II

I’ve never known anyone like Greg Trupiano, and I don’t expect I ever shall. We met when I joined American Opera Projects in 1995. The programs Greg conceived for American Opera Projects were original, innovative, and memorable. Conversations with Greg about music—genres, compositions, composers, performers, productions—fascinated me. He helped me to become a more discerning listener. 

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his character Jay Gatsby, Greg sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. Much of his learning and expertise was self-acquired. He was the most knowledgeable person about music, Walt Whitman, and the history of Brooklyn that I have ever met. He founded the Walt Whitman Project to realize his dream of awakening today’s readers to the beauty and humanity of Whitman’s writing and to connect Whitman’s New York to the current metropolis. Greg’s walking tours of Fort Greene Park and the Prison Ship Monument and Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn are the best walking tours I ever took, enriched by his encyclopedic knowledge and enlivened by the inclusion of musical performances and readings and prints and photographs depicting the sites we were visiting in times gone by. Like opera singers, Greg eschewed microphones on these tours, and for our edification and amusement, he corrected the errors on the historical plaques. 

For decades, Greg kept to a set routine, dividing his year between Sarasota and New York City. At the Sarasota Opera, he nurtured many careers and was devoted to the summer opera camp he began for children. Despite his learning, Greg was never pedantic. He was modest and disinclined to talk about himself. He had a genuine interest in others. Aside from his long-distance commutes between New York City and Sarasota, he rarely traveled anywhere, and yet he was one of the most open-minded and least provincial people I have ever encountered. 

He had simple tastes. He liked diners and Chinese restaurants. Other than books and music, he did not acquire possessions. His devotions were deep and sustaining. He could be counted on to be punctual. He showed up and forged connections between like-minded people in different artistic communities. His programming was diverse before diversity became a goal. In recent years, he was increasingly committed to education and young people.

As Greg nurtured the careers of many singers, he helped me become a better performer of my own work. Participating in his Walt Whitman programs, I noticed that the singers were invariably better readers than the writers. They came prepared and rehearsed, whereas the writers winged it, and the results showed. I began to understand the many connections between singing and speaking, and I tried to think as a singer when preparing for a reading of my work. When I give a reading, I think of Greg. It is a way for me to keep him with me as a sustaining spirit.                    

-Anne Whitehouse, writer and former Development Consultant, American Opera Projects

III 

Trupiano. That’s how Greg Trupiano signed every missive to me, never Greg. As if we were on a high stakes mission together. And indeed we were. There was a lot to do and time was of the essence. Trupiano was my comrade on a trajectory to, as Whitman would say, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”  

Trupiano was an Advisory Board member of Compagnia de’ Colombari and, signing on to that role, he became a rare friend to me, to Compagnia de’ Colombari and to all the projects including More Or Less I Am, the opera Judith, The Merchant of Venice and all the others. He listened hard to all of us at board meetings. Civility and practical wisdom marked his every contribution to the company, but nothing replaced his particular joy at witnessing the performances of the actors and singers themselves. They were the heart of the company and their presence was paramount to him. 

The Whitman Project was Trupiano’s “urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge” in which he single handedly brought Walt Whitman into the consciousness of New Yorkers as a force to be reckoned with. In a persistent grassroots movement, he led countless tours of folk around the many neighborhoods of Brooklyn, freely offering knowledge of Whitman and New York history. His lucky auditors always left these itinerant gatherings ecstatic: deepened in their knowledge and renewed in their New York citizenship. If it were up to me, I would designate Trupiano a New York landmark.

Trupiano’s other great love was the opera: he was Associate Artistic Director at the Sarasota Opera where his knowledge was indispensable and where he galvanized a great variety of singers. He was a go-to repository of all things operatic and theatrical. Yet, making connections and bringing people together to serve shared missions was of greatest delight to him. A democratic soul, he relished meeting people, more than anybody I know and, remarkably, kept everyone’s name and history perfectly unmuddled. 

Words mattered to Trupiano. If we spoke of something happening, he always kept his word, a surefire bond in a slippery time. I was a beneficiary of that integrity and attention. When Greg Trupiano left us suddenly in February 2020, I was struck by the vast resounding silence his absence carved. Yet just now, now, I begin to hear him challenging and encouraging us all in this extraordinary American moment—along with his beloved Walt, “What is known I strip away….I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown.” 

-Karin Coonrod, Founding Director of Compagnia de’ Colombari

IV

Two of the most important events of my life happened in 1981. In May, I moved to New York City. Three months later, August 15, 1981, I met Greg Trupiano. We were at a theatre party in the East Village. This wasn’t a love at first sight story, but within a year our relationship evolved into something beautiful and Whitmanic that lasted 38 years. August 15 became our anniversary date. To Greg, the Ides of August.

On my first day in New York, I knew I was finally home. Then Greg appeared and became my custom Welcome Wagon. He was a native Brooklynite, he loved his city, and he was eager to show it to me. “He was a welcoming presence” wrote a friend after his passing. What made him so welcoming? These other descriptors used in tributes to Greg will explain: kind, gentle, respectful, compassionate, trustworthy, supportive, generous, inspiring, funny, professional, organized, smart, a treasure, a true gentleman, an incredible human, a true ray of sunshine, a class act, one-of-a-kind.

In our early years, we were together all the time, working at the same job during the day (William Morrow Publishers), rehearsing plays together (me acting, Greg directing), and seeing performances together (theatre, opera, cabaret, film). For most of the 1980s, we were in a theatre or opera house an average of 5 times a week. Broadway, Off- and Off-Off- Broadway, The Met, New York City Opera.

We wandered the city together. We visited the popular touristy and sought the obscure. Many of our jaunts were in Downtown Manhattan and the West Side when Battery Park City was just landfill. 

In the late 1980s Greg started getting out-of-town jobs in opera so we’d be apart for up to 5 months in a year. For 33 years, Greg worked at Sarasota Opera in Florida and was a vital force there as Director of Artistic Administration.

We managed these relationship fluctuations with ease which was a testament to the strength of our partnership.

Greg was a fervent Walt Whitman ambassador. He loved people. He created community. He had a zest and reverence for life. He embraced Whitman’s words on democracy and the spirit of America.

In 2000 Greg launched The Walt Whitman Project. We produced readings, tours and related events. Greg’s specialty was Whitman during his Brooklyn years. He created tours of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene Park. We commissioned composers to create music based on, or using, Whitman’s words. Greg’s intention was to bring the words of Whitman, spoken and sung, to the people. It was an expression of his celebration of life that he shared with Walt.

There were some sticky years in Greg’s health story. He almost succumbed to a subdural hematoma in 2014. In July 2017, Greg began a new chemotherapy regimen for chronic lymphocytic leukemia that he had been managing since 2004. As a result, he regained a vibrancy not experienced in several years. His death in February 2020 was sudden and unexpected.

It was easy for Greg to bolster people’s spirits. He freely gave moral support and career guidance. He was a good listener. He could make you feel safe and quickly garner your trust. It made him a positive force for so many people. I was a fortunate recipient…24/7. 

I’m still receiving. I was always intrigued by the final, periodless line in Song of Myself, and after Greg’s passing it has even more significance.

“I stop some where waiting for you”
                  

-Lon Black, Greg’s life partner and Artistic Director of The Walt Whitman Project


Friday, October 16, 2020

Evan Nicholls on Poetry by Anne Whitehouse

Review: Outside From the Inside (Dos Madres Press, 2020) by Anne Whitehouse. Loveland, OH. 122 pages. $19.00 U.S. ISBN: 978-1-948017-96-1.

Anne Whitehouse’s new book of poetry, Outside From the Inside, is a many-legged thing. Maybe, it’s something like Whitman’s spider, launching “filament, filament, filament, out of itself.” Or maybe, that is an overly dramatic comparison. Whatever description you like, what you need to know is that this book revolves around the body and its place. Also, the body and its person. Whitehouse explores these topics through a handful of forms – free verse, the odd cento, more – offering a generous 95 pages of poetry.

Of course, there are plenty of details I found myself savoring throughout the collection. Always, I love a book with good sectioning (Whitehouse divides her work into four parts). I also admired Outside’s embrace of often-times clinical language – this occurring in the first section, “Tides of the Body.” In one poem, the poet lauds the anconeus and popliteus muscles as if they were Greek heroes. Above all, though, my interest was piqued by Whitehouse’s forays into persona.

The second section of Outside, entitled “It Wasn’t A Hallucination,” (one of my favorite titles) is where the bulk of this work happens. In the book, Whitehouse inhabits the voices of Carlos Santana and the prolific sculptor Isamu Noguchi, among others. This last instance is the title poem of the book.

As someone with a real soft spot for Noguchi’s work, it was a pleasant surprise to find his voice inhabited inside. Moreover, the poem is an epistolary gem – a reimaging of a letter from Noguchi to Man Ray. [Editor: Whitehouse explains the genesis of the poem in an interview.] But – maybe this is of note – I also began reading it with a healthy dose of skepticism. Persona requires a great amount of care: it is never not a balancing act. Soon enough, though, I found “Outside From the Inside” to be full of care. It is also timely, placing Noguchi back in the Poston camp in Arizona during Japanese American internment, reminding us now of the current detention camp crisis at the border.

Considering Noguchi’s work, too, it becomes easy to draw conclusions on how the artist’s contemplative style may have influenced Whitehouse in piecing this collection together. Lines like “Here, there is a memory / of ancient places, / wind and sun, endlessness, / where I came from, / and where I will go. ...” align with both Noguchi’s expression of wind, flight and movement as well as the core mood of the book – a poetics wrapped up in being placed by moments. Emphasizing this paradoxy – in the sense that moments always seem to pick up and move on – “Outside From the Inside” ends on a nicely juxtaposed note, placing the small alongside the large: “Oh, for an orange, / Oh, for the sea.” Whitehouse borrows these lines from the real Noguchi letter. It is in details like this where I think Whitehouse is most successful.

Other poems worth mentioning from the book include “Salt-Rising Bread”, which tracks the life of an ancient recipe, and “Koko and Robin”, which is an imagining of the relationship between the late Robin Williams and Koko, the gorilla who was famous for her command of American Sign Language (ASL). But, maybe what will appeal to some readers the most – especially casual readers of poetry – are Outside’s quieter, brief poems (of which there are plenty). “Balm” is one of these.

In the days of Instagram poetry, it’s comforting to come across short poems that deal their cards quickly but don’t leave you feeling cheated. While it was not always my specific taste, Outside From the Inside never left me feeling cheated. Instead, a little more placed, on “a gray road like a fallen ribbon.”

- Evan Nicholls is a graduate of James Madison University and has poetry appearing or forthcoming in Guesthouse, Sporklet, DIAGRAM, Hobart and Yalobusha Review, among others. He was raised in the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Fauquier County, Virginia. He tweets at @nicholls_evan.

Copyright©2020 by Evan Nicholls. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Disintegration" by S.E. Soldwedel - A Review by Carlo Alvaro


More than a Story, a Literary ‘Singularity’

By Carlo Alvaro


Disintegration by S.E. Soldwedel. Inkshares (2019). Paperback 412 pages, $ 14.71.

On its surface, S.E. Soldwedel’s Disintegration seems a series of interweaving adventure tales. They take place in an indefinite future. The adroit narrative leaves the reader free to interpret. To one, it may be a traditional, hard-boiled sci-fi story that at times is reminiscent of Aliens and Blade Runner. To another, it may be a perverse hallucination akin to Jacob’s Ladder or In the Mouth of Madness. It is both cinematic and literary at once.

Soldwedel doesn’t moralize. He doesn’t indict his own characters. He lets them damn or redeem themselves—often both, in one order or the other. We could say that we don’t know what he intended, but it seems a conscious choice to allow the reader to project his or her paradigm. The way we think affects the way we perceive the media we consume. Soldwedel understands the subjectivity of perception, and he exploits it to create a rich, ambitious tale rife with moral ambiguity.

There is no singular protagonist. Instead, this is an ensemble drama. Soldwedel skillfully interweaves these storylines without dropping any threads. The brevity of certain chapters and a lengthy hiatus of one storyline only add mystery and pique intrigue. This aspect of the book is the one that I like most. Why settle for a simple, comfortable story? Rather, Soldwedel’s tale is the literary equivalent of taking a trip through a wormhole: terrifying, fascinating, compelling! While an Einstein-Rosen Bridge underpins the entire premise, he sends the reader through a series of figurative portals to arrive at surprising but satisfying destinations. We travel these warped paths with the various characters, feel their discomfort, experience their perversion and, in a few cases, their redemption.

In this text, I see subversion. At the same moment a misogynist might revel in depictions of violence, a more discerning reader would recognize that the heroes of this book are, in fact, its women. Soldwedel’s lens unflinchingly examines things from which most people would prefer to turn away. He seems to be saying that, yes, humanity is capable of great ugliness but the only way to confront it is to pay dutiful witness to the evils that we perpetrate. What good does it do us to ignore them? He posits that our champions should be those who have experienced abuse, know trauma, and have persevered despite. And who—rather than continue the cycle—lash out at the engines of oppression that churn out the men and women who perpetrate such abuse.

One character, Ada, is a counselor by trade and she is the most emotionally intelligent of all the players. Even still, she is averse to commitment, polyamorous, and bisexual. Further, neither her sexuality nor that of any of the characters is played for titillation. Instead, Soldwedel uses sex to develop the characters—to reveal how they act at their most vulnerable, and how they prey upon or protect the vulnerabilities of others. By some estimations, Ada might be considered a “minor” character, but her influence upon multiple “major” and “minor” characters is so profound that I consider her one of the most important figures. She is, in many ways, the conscience of the book.

Playing with and against Ada is Carina, an Algerian refugee turned soldier, whose late, French father served in the same military. Carina smolders with rage borne of trauma, and of resentment that she had to pretend to be French to join the martial empire that she reluctantly serves. One of the many striking things about her is her size. Soldwedel describes her to be over six-feet tall and powerfully built, enough to dwarf many of the men she encounters. She also presents as a militant, misandrist homosexual, but is so beautiful that the men around her refuse to withhold their “appreciation.” It’s a fitting anecdote for where we find ourselves, at present. It can be read as an endorsement of certain trends, but the author doesn’t vilify the villains of that paradigm. Instead, the narrator is neutral. The characters speak for themselves, and even the bad actors are permitted their moments of nuance, exhibiting even beneficence and empathy.

Though rife with coarse language, there is beauty and elegance in the prose. The narrator is not just neutral but erudite, whereas the characters are as aberrant and multifaceted as real people. Soldwedel’s creations are so credible as to seem real—even those who are not human. The aliens are allegorical, though not in a trite way. The author knows the razor’s edge upon which dance such trappings of science fiction, and he manages to keep them balanced. They neither fall off one side into the absurd, nor off the other into belabored self-consciousness.

Disintegration is the work of a writer who understands craft and that all contrivances are products of ego. Yet, it is rare for a debut author to have seemingly barred his ego a place in the narrative. At the very least, he’s prevented it from infecting the book with the sort of obvious wish-fulfillment that damns the early work of so many writers. As such, the novel appears to be a labor that has undergone many iterations. Parts of it indicate a certain brash youthfulness, which might to some audiences seem puerile. Other parts—the characterizations—boast deep understanding of the human condition.

I won’t leave you without a taste of the plot itself. The back cover tells us of a world in disarray, the victim of a long conflict that hints at an immortal architect, which imbues the fiction with an element of the fantastic. It then teases a plan to restore order, but not before an assassination. There are elements of political intrigue, global war, and personal betrayals. It’s an ambitious work. But it works. What holds it together are its well-drawn and eminently relatable characters, even those whom you may wish not to like. I look forward to Soldwedel’s further output. A debut of this caliber promises even greater things to come.

- Dr. Carlo Alvaro has been teaching philosophy at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York since 2011. He has also taught at St. Francis College and at Kean University. He’s the author of Ethical Veganism (2019) and Raw Veganism (forthcoming, 2020).

Copyright©2019 by Carlo Alvaro, All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Songs of Story Men - Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis

Vaneshran Arumugam (left) and Emmanuel Castis (right)

ON Saturday, 28 September we held the fourth Moral Sense Colloquium, which focused on cross cultural morality, human and animal. As part of the program, two seasoned actors and musicians from South Africa, Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis performed their work, SONGS OF STORY MEN. We witnessed a moving, multicultural feast that weaved a story of two men and one shared love in New York. There was tension, conflict, and yet above all brotherhood. Everything was told through a medley of crisp song and sprightly movement, a sharing of tones through the textures of a steel-string guitar and a nylon-string guitar. Every moment of the performance was well orchestrated to achieve maximum effect. There was Indian chanting and yoga-like rhythms along with light shared from one man to another. Words consisted of texts from Shakespeare to popular songs. The audience was engaged in part of the performance, and everyone I spoke to afterward confirmed having a deeply satisfying experience. I know I did. The lighting and sound engineer was Guy de Lancey.

Among the many guiding questions of the Colloquium, here are a few that would have been addressed by Songs of Story Men: What is cross-cultural morality? What principles and standards of behavior are shared among cultures? How do values, beliefs, and practices differ among cultures? And as Charles Darwin says, in The Descent of Man, “The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable – namely, that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well developed, or nearly as well developed, as in man.” Today we’d say “humankind” and not “man,” but the point is that Vaneshran Arumugam and Emmanuel Castis, through their artistry of words, music, and song, epitomize the type of universal moral sense, evident even among animal species, Darwin alludes to.

IN their own words, here’s a bit of what Arumugam and Castis say, put together especially for the event program by their colleague and manager, Jacqueline Acres, of Sixface Creatives: “Songs of Story Men is an experiential meditation on cultural relationships and story. It aims to incite the imagination and evoke the emotions of the audience into drawing together different musical, literary and performance styles and techniques into a cohesive “narrative.” The piece aims to present a thinking, feeling platform for experiencing one’s own reflections and glimmers of memory... The creation and curation of content is evolving and arises from and in response to the actual life experience of the performers, as men, as children of immigrants, as Africans... and as storytellers.”

About The Performers.

Vaneshran Arumugam is a veteran of the South African and International independent film scene, and a film maker in his own right with the independent offbeat hit, “Actorholic.” On stage, he has played the part of parts – Hamlet – for the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, while in South Africa he has become the very image of Othello gracing the cover of the Oxford University press edition of the play. Vaneshran graduated with a Master’s degree in Consciousness in Performance as a Ford Fellow in 2008, which first brought him to New York where he studied at Columbia University under Kristin Linklater. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at St. Francis College in 2013, teaching and performing. Vaneshran and his wife Jacqueline have been selected as a winner in the competitive global social innovation challenge 2019 (Civil Society Academy) in recognition of their innovative vision for the arts in social design, Living University.

Emmanuel Castis became a household name through his character Steve in the popular South African drama, Isidingo. Since then he has been on film sets and stages all around the world. Having played a role in major soaps/dramas in South Africa (Sevende Laan, Erfsondes, Scandal) and the United States (General Hospital, Days of our Lives), Emmanuel is a well-known star of the screen. Emmanuel started his theatre career in Bloemfontein on the Sandt Du Plesis stage playing Rocky in the Rocky Horror show (1999). He has gone on to star in a host of musical and live theatre productions, including, Jersey Boys and Grease. His other claim to fame is beating Trevor Noah in strictly come dancing season 4, 2008, proving that white men can dance! Emmanuel released an album in 2008 called South of Nowhere. He now gigs regularly with his band, Dalliance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tribute to Toni Morrison - by Divya Bhatnagar


Remembering Toni Morrison


By Divya Bhatnagar

I feel the pain of losing the one who gave me a meaning to lead a self-awakened life…the one to whom I owe - learning, thinking, understanding, and the power to create consciousness in terms of self with a WE feeling. Yes, she is none other than Toni Morrison - 1993 Nobel Prize winning first African-American female author, who left this earthly abode for heavenly peace on August 5, 2019.

Late on the evening of August 6, 2019 (as per the time zone), I started receiving calls and messages for the sudden, sad demise of Toni Morrison, as everyone in my family and circle was well aware of the love, respect, and admiration I owed for Ms. Morrison. For the past 19 years, Morrison had become an integral unseen member of the family. It all started with the thought of pursuing a Ph.D., and Toni Morrison was the prominent name that struck my mind. At that point of time, I had only read “The Bluest Eye” and “Sula,” and reading them helped me to understand the thin line of difference between living in dreams and talking about realism. My Ph.D. thesis concentrates mostly on “The Bluest Eye to Love,” but the inspiration to read Morrison’s writing is unending.

She is one of the most influential, celebrated, and respected authors of her time. Her writing is richly known for epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African-American characters. In other words, she’s not a mere one-time reading. Though her writing ranges for more than 4 decades, still one element that has always fascinated me in all her writings is that there is something and that something needs to be addressed even today. Each of her novels explores the power of self-consciousness that emerges from each individual’s connection with her roots. Toni Morrison’s progression as a writer can very well be interpreted from one of her famous quotes:

If there is a book that you want to read, but it has not been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

Her ideology has worked as a catalyst to my thought process. It gave me the power to own a meaningful life - a life full of purpose and hope. If I could boil down my learning from Morrison in a couple of words it would be, Speaking the Unspeakable. She had the power to unveil the harsh cruelties and truths which remain undercover of silence with a face of injustice. It was not an easy task to talk about Pecola (“The Bluest Eye,” 1970) or Sethe (“Beloved,” 1997).

Each of her novels reflects the growing awareness of the common oppression, exploitation, and victimization of black people in American. “This is not a story to pass on...” is the concluding statement of “Beloved” (1987) and suggests that blacks (now used to describe a free man of colour) first need to know what they have been, where they are, and the significance of what they are. By renewing this they will get some idea of what they still must be. Morrison taught me that the idea of freeing oneself from the brutal facts of inhumanity and injustice not only applies to the black community but to all those individuals and communities (across the globe) who readily accept themselves as a symbol of powerlessness - falling in a trap, the web of victimization. As Morrison says:

Freeing yourself was one thing claiming ownership of that freed self was another. (“Beloved,” 1997)

Morrison’s writing nurtures the thought of awakening an individual’s sensitivity over the socio-psycho rigidness of society. The biggest oscillation between “Why” and “How” appears in “The Bluest Eye” (1970):

There is really nothing more to say - except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

This statement suggests that one needs to find a solution by either retrospecting or introspecting the “how” (as per a situation). There is no single scene in our daily life that fails to find a reference from Ms. Morrison’s writing. It reminds me of many such unforgettable incidents that I came across. Whether it be the incident of a female soft-skills coach who refused to take up assigned sessions on fear of being unwelcome by the audience for being dark-skinned, or be it the girl child of rural areas for being deprived for technical higher education, or be it the grievance of working women who at many times face sexual atrocities from their senior male colleagues, or an individual being deprived on grounds of minority status. Whether I read Morrison’s African-American society, or I talk about my Indian society, or about any other society across the globe, what really matters is how you handle “how” instead of “why.” The “how” will help you find alternatives for constructing a positive approach in society. I somewhere believe that my thesis would have been incomplete if I could not contribute, like Claudia, Milkman, Paul D, Mrs. MacTeer, and Baby Suggs, towards the betterment of society.

Like, Claudia (“The Bluest Eye,” 1970) and Paul D (“Beloved,” 1987) it was my social responsibility to enhance the feeling of self worth in the female coach and help her recognize her inner beauty and potential of knowledge. Characters like Felice (“Jazz,” 1992), Mrs. MacTeer (“The Bluest Eye,” 1970), Baby Suggs (“Beloved,” 1997), and Pilate (“Song of Solomon,” 1977) insist that I sustain the feeling of pride for being a female and that I too am an empowered woman. Taking this as a duty, I worked in rural areas to educate people to value the existence and the right of each and every girl child. As a result to this, twenty six (girl) children were able to attain engineering and pharmaceutical degrees.

Reading Morrison has given us the power to contribute meaningfully. Her brilliant writing has taught us to love one’s own self, to understand the gravity of belongingness, to write about both the triumphs and also the sufferings. By doing so we create a society where conscious souls emerge to celebrate ways of survival and hopes of creating a Paradise through love for race, community building, and emotional bonding.

I tribute my Ph.D. thesis - research based on Toni Morrison’s novels from “The Bluest Eye” to “Love.” Rest well and in peace, Ms. Morrison.

Copyright©2019 by Divya Bhatnagar, Ph.D. – All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Banning Meat Consumption? - Book Review by Carlo Alvaro


Abolition of Meat

In Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? Jan Deckers makes a convincing argument for qualified moral veganism. Qualified means that it “does not demand that human beings abstain from eating animal products in all situations” (p. 99). In most societies where plant-based food is readily available, vegan diets should be adopted because consumption of animal products undermines human health and undermines the health of vegans because animal agriculture has a tremendously negative impact upon the environment (p. 108).

The writing is clear and engaging. This book can be useful to three different groups: meat eaters can benefit from Deckers’ detailed first-hand experience on factory farms to help them think about the negative global impacts that animal agriculture causes; second, physicians who currently recommend their patients animal products for good health; third, as a college text since it discusses some ethical theories, environmental, and nutrition science.

In my view, Animal (De)liberation has not received the attention that it deserves. This is rather unfortunate because it shows convincingly that human health, holistically conceived, must take center stage in animal ethics. Contrary to most work in this field, Deckers’ concern with human health leads him to embrace animalism, an extension of speciesism, which encompasses both a bias in favor of animals and a bias against eating them (p. 10). By showing that vegan ethics must be grounded in a concern with human health in order to be robust, Deckers advances animal ethics significantly. Whilst he makes the valiant point that his discussion may or may not convince people to go vegan, in the meantime, animal agriculture undermines human health and is rapidly destroying our environment. Thus, it is now time to make truly radical changes and consider ways to legally ban the consumption of animal products.

In the opening chapter, Deckers suggests that human rights should include healthcare. Consequently, it is of utmost importance that the food that humans eat should be conducive to good health and respect for the environment. In the early chapter, Deckers shows how the consumption of animal products jeopardizes the human right to healthcare unjustifiably and how diets can change when this is the case. Also, there is a detailed discussion of the negative impact of zoonotic diseases on the health of those who do not consume animal products; and most importantly, Deckers discusses how natural resources can be used more efficiently if we grow food for human consumption. First of all, as the world population is growing, demand for animal products is also growing. To satisfy this demand, more animals must be brought into existence. More animals means using more natural resources, such as water, fossil fuels, food, and more. Second, confinement of these animals leads to infectious diseases that are spread farther and farther as animals are transported around the world.

To fight diseases, the farm animals’ sector uses drugs, such as antibiotics, to prevent diseases. Globally, half of the antibiotics that are produced are used to prevent diseases. This promotes drug-resistant strains of bacteria. Not to mention that these drugs are consumed by the animals and end up not only in the bodies of those who will eat the animals, thus compromising their health, but also in the soil and the waters and polluting them. Speaking of diseases, vector-borne diseases are caused by infections transmitted to people by insects. Such diseases are caused and became more severe as a result of the environmental changes that resulted from the practices of animal agriculture, such as deforestation and reduction of biodiversity. Deckers gives the example of the forest clearance in the early 1960s in Bolivia that led to a viral fever known as Machupo (p. 20). He also discusses the spread of HIV, influenza, and the Nipah virus. Bottom line, those who consume animal products contribute more to the emergence of zoonotic diseases that cause illness and kill people and animals than those who consume plant-based diets (p. 22).

Another problem is that the farm animals sector uses too much agricultural land, since 70-75% of earth’s arable land is used to grow food to feed animals. In North America and Europe only 40% of arable land is used to grow food for humans (p. 23). Using land to feed animals is highly inefficient. Vegetarian diets generally require five times less arable land than meat-based diets. Consequently, meat-based diets contribute more to land use and degradation than plant-based diets.

Farmers apply phosphorus fertilizers to supplement the low quantities available in the soil. In many cases this has led to the buildup of phosphorus in the soil, and in turn the potential for phosphorus to become soluble. Dissolved phosphorus is transported from farms to lakes, rivers, and streams causing excessive aquatic plant growth, such as eutrophication. Decomposition of algae leads to hypoxia in rivers and seas, which causes suffocation of aquatic ecosystems. Eutrophication also generates Pfiesteria Piscicida, literally a group of fish-killer eukaryotes. Animal farming uses more fresh water than any other sector. It also pollutes more water than any other sector. Furthermore, farmers use fertilizers and pesticides that cause the formation of nitrates that leak into the groundwater resulting in negative health effects. Farmers in the USA use recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBTS), hormones that pollute waters. Consider that half of the fish that humans consume are produced in aquacultures systems.

The points are (a) we could feed more people by using the same amount of plant protein that is now required to feed the animals; (b) with animal farming out of the picture, we could use less arable land in a more sustainable way; and (c) animal agriculture degrades more land and has a more negative impact upon the environment than any other agricultural sector (pp. 24-25). Vegan diets, on the other hand, are shown to be more efficient than any other diets. They consume less water and reduce water pollution. Animal farming is a leading cause of climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.

Deckers formerly worked on a farm and so shares his first-hand experience of the practices. Such practices can be described as cutthroat, profit-driven, callous, absurd, revolting, and more. There is nothing remotely fair, just, compassionate – nothing noble, nothing that evinces good intention or good human character – with such practices. If the practices described in this chapter won’t make the reader decide to become a vegan, I do not know what will, at least in my opinion. Consider that most societies have the fortune to have an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, and more. Yet, people demand animal flesh irrespective of the suffering of animals and the negative environmental impacts of animal farming.

Although there is a general agreement that farm animals are sentient beings, some dispute this fact. Clare Palmer (2010) thinks that many organisms may only be capable of “unconscious responses to pain” (pp. 14, 18). Her argument is that “research on human fetuses indicates withdrawal reflexes before the development of the thalamo-cortical circuits associated with pain perception” (p. 12). But what if a fetus feels pain before the development of the thalamo-cortical circuits associated with pain perception? Murray (2008) argues that organisms exhibit pain behavior when exposed to pain-inducing stimuli. Animals with a more neurologically complex structure experience first order pain, that is, they feel pain, but are not aware that they are feeling pain. Only humans, and perhaps other primates, experience second order pain, which is awareness of suffering, i.e., they know, anticipate, and reflect upon their pain experience.

Deckers does not find commonly made cognitive distinctions or distinctions made on the basis of organisms’ interests in the avoidance of pain convincing. He argues that inflicting pain on sentient organisms should be avoided in many situations, but not all. Deckers suggests that sentience does not stop at farm animals, but continues down to clams, insects, plants, and even bacteria – a position to which he refers as “pan-sentientism” (p. 70). Deckers addresses the issue as follows. First, Deckers points out that most philosophers are wrong in asserting that only certain animals have an interest to continue their existence. All organisms have been “designed” by nature to have an interest in continuing to exist. Whether the organism can say or think to itself, “I want to continue to exist,” is ultimately unimportant from a moral point of view. However, we have to eat, and everything that we eat is sentient, though in different degrees. Thus, a morally acceptable diet must take into account that animals like pigs, chickens, and cows, are not human food, except in extreme or particular circumstances. This is grounded in the notion that while all living organisms are related, we are more closely related to animals than to plants. This notion Deckers calls animalism, that is, we should attribute more moral significance to animals than to other organisms because we are more closely related to animals biologically (pp. 85, 99). In other words, Deckers argues that we are morally justified in eating plants but not justified in eating animal products. Therefore, in most cases we ought to adopt qualified moral veganism, not on the basis of reducing animal suffering, but on the ground that consuming animal bodies undermines human health (p. 103).

Despite these considerations, some meat eaters and vegetarians may remain unconvinced about the moral necessity to adopt veganism. However, having documented the negative impacts of animal-based diets upon the environment and human health, it is clear that diet is not a matter of taste or personal preference. Something must be done to move in the direction of qualified moral veganism. Thus, in chapter three, Deckers offers a valiant answer to this problem, and that is, the political project that includes “political and legislative reforms to reduce the likelihood that people will not fulfill their duties when they make choices about what to eat” (p. 107). In other words, to ensure a human right to healthcare, the next step is to ban the consumption of animal products. This is of course a gargantuan difficulty in light of the fact that our society is animal-product-centered. We have been disciplined by society that consuming animal products is the norm, and that being vegetarians or vegans is a radical position. It is not difficult to understand why – blueberries don’t generate money, meat does!

In spite of many social and political obstacles, Deckers suggests three strategies to move governments and people to promote and eventually adopt qualified moral veganism. The first option is to educate people about moral veganism. This may be accomplished by promoting educational initiatives to encourage discussions on the negative effects resulting from consumption of animal products and the benefits of qualified moral veganism. In my own work (Alvaro 2017; 2019) I suggest educating children from a young age through clear information in the form of lectures, videos, and more, on the impacts of animal agriculture; moral education emphasizing virtuous actions; and vegan food preparation and nutrition. The second strategy is to increase the costs of animal products; and the third is to implement a qualified ban on the consumption of animal products, qualified in the sense that it would not apply to all people in all circumstances. The remainder of chapter three is dedicated to addressing three challenges to the vegan project.

The first objection is that people are not ready to go vegan, and consequently it is pointless to pursue a ban. Deckers shows that in fact it is quite the opposite. There is evidence that people are ready to make changes. Anecdotally, the recent interest in veganism may be observed. Non-philosophers have become more and more interested in veganism because they understand that animal agriculture contributes to the degradation of the environment; that eating more fruit and vegetables is more conducive to good health, which is a no-brainer that somehow has been contested, not surprisingly, by the meat industry; and that meat-based diets require the unjustified infliction of pain to farm animals. The second objection is that the vegan project seems to undermine human food security. This worry seems groundless especially considering that a vegan scenario would release more arable land that would allow biodiversity and a greater abundance of plant-based food. Furthermore, veganism would lead to growing a wider range of vegetables and fruits than what is available today. The third objection is that the vegan project may alienate human beings from nature. In my view, this is quite an extravagant worry. First, there are many human endeavors that have alienated us from nature. I am reminded of that every time I go to work on an overcrowded train where every single person stares at his or her cellphone holding a cup of coffee in the other hand. It is hard to see how the perpetuation of factory farming and killing animals will bring us closer to nature.

In chapter four, Deckers discusses what other people think and have to say about qualified moral veganism. This discussion includes a number of views of academics as well as non-philosophers, including slaughterhouse workers. Deckers argues that qualified moral veganism “stands firm in light of the various problems that beset other positions” (p. 156). Here he reiterates that more people than we think understand the moral importance of the vegan project and are willing to make changes. Deckers ends the book with an appendix that addresses the unjustified fear of many people that vegan diets may not be nutritionally adequate. I find this issue very interesting because most people know little about nutrition in general. Meat eaters do not research to find out if their particular diet is nutritionally adequate. By the same token, without research people who are interested in adopting a vegan diet cannot possibly know that it is possible to thrive on vegan diets. To address the question of the adequacy of vegan diets and conclude this review, I wish to make two points: one is that there is a massive body of ever-growing scientific evidence showing that vegan diets are more healthful than meat-based diets, and that vegan diets can prevent and reverse certain diseases. Thanks to the Internet, nowadays it is quite easy to learn this information. Second, considering that we live in a carnist society, and considering that the meat industry and many meat eaters try to discredit veganism at any possible occasion, were vegan diets nutritionally deficient, by now we would know about people becoming ill or dying as a result of vegan diets. Anecdotal or not, the fact is that millions of people, including scholars, athletes, construction workers, children, housewives, young and elderly, truck drivers, and more have been strictly vegans and thriving for decades. After all, it is said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, not that a steak a day would do so.

References

Alvaro, C. (2017). “Ethical Veganism, Virtue, and Greatness of the Soul.” Journal of
Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 30 (6):765-781 (2017).

Alvaro, C. (2019). Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, and the Great Soul.

Deckers J. (2016). Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products
Be Banned. London: Ubiquity Press.

Murray, M. (2008). Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal
Suffering. Oxford University Press.

Palmer, C. (2010). Animal Ethics in Context. New York: Columbia University Press.

- CARLO ALVARO is a moral philosopher and the author of Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, and the Great Soul

copyright©2019 by Carlo Alvaro – All Rights Reserved