Tag Archives: Prague

‘Marx in Soho’ and the current political climate

Howard Zinn, in his 1999 play Marx in Soho, has Karl Marx say something like, “Why is it that every movement of six people is trying to expel someone?” In Zinn’s imagination, even Marx is exasperated at the ideological zealotry that can lead a group as small as six people (with essentially the same goals and values) to wage an intense purity campaign within its own ranks. It’s food for thought in these times, when someone who agrees with you 75% of the time can be 100% your enemy. There is no room for compromise, is there? Better a scorched Earth than a shared Earth, right? Just to be sure, you have to keep everyone within your ranks pure enough. Be vigilant.

During my visit to the Museum of Communism in Prague this past summer, I saw a display that revealed Party officials would sometimes torture and execute Party loyalists just to keep everyone in line through fear. The display showed mugshots of innocent people who were cherry-picked for torture and execution—even when the Party officials knew they had done nothing wrong. Purity through terror.

Update, Jan. 14: 

While social media hissing is not quite like torture and execution, the condemnation of Margaret Atwood by the self-appointed, self-anointed “Good Feminists” is an example of a vicious purity campaign. Read Atwood’s account in The Globe and Mail.

If the name of Margaret Atwood rings a bell, it’s because she is the author of the 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which recently became an acclaimed Hulu series. I teach her essay, “The Female Body,” in one of my writing courses each semester. Atwood strikes me as a feminist icon, but lately she has fallen out of favor with some purists.

The purists’ response to her civil-rights stance underscores my original point in this post. In a world with Donald Trump as president, left-leaning people actually want to target Margaret Atwood? But if you agree with her only 75% of the time, she must be 100% your enemy. That kind of thinking earns you Donald Trump.


Prague Postcard: Alfons Mucha Stained Glass Window

In Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Read about the Mucha stained glass here. I also got to visit the Mucha Museum while I was in Prague, but was not able to see his Slav Epic at the National Gallery. Next time.

Prague Postcard: Jan Hus Memorial


Prague is an amazing city. Mostly, look at the two photos. What follows is a newbie’s expression of a few things he’s just learned while here in Prague.

Apparently, the Jan Hus Memorial, pictured above and below, is famous for more than just its namesake. Built in 1915, the memorial counts as a work of Art Nouveau sculpture.

The funny thing about the above angle: The reformer Hus (1369-1415) appears to be looking at the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which is the church he wrestled away from the Roman Catholic Church, and some time after Hus’s death (burned at the stake), Rome wrestled back from his followers, the Hussites.

Between the two spires, you can see a lower cross, and beneath that, what looks like a gold light or plate. It’s an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. It wasn’t always there. Just underneath that image, there’s an empty space that used to hold a golden cup, symbolizing Hus’s and the Hussite’s belief that the layperson can receive the wine at Holy Communion, not just the bread, which at the time was the practice. When Rome regained control of the church, Catholic authorities had the golden cup melted and pressed into the image of the Virgin and baby Jesus. (I’m only repeating what I’ve heard on a Rick Steves audio guide or briefly read online—just quick postcard here! I’m probably missing nuances.)

One thing I didn’t know about Jan Hus is his impact on the Czech language: he was a professor who added the diacritical marks—like ý and š—that allow Czech to be written so the letters can represent Czech sounds that differ from sounds in the Latin alphabet.

Soon, I’ll be back in the States. Here’s Hus with a bird on his head: